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Reunion 99

The Hunt

By Minnie K.

[slightly revised - 16 Sep 1999]


Disclaimer... I do not own any characters found in the series "Starsky and Hutch". This is not intended to infringe on any copyrights held by Spelling-Goldberg Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Studios, or any other holders of Starsky and Hutch copyrights. There has been no money involved nor has any exchanged hands. No reprints or reproductions without the author's permission. This is just intended to be for fun.


It had been a very hot summer and an equally warm fall, and people had not yet thought of the cold that had yet to arrive. Many in the path of the breeze shivered and shrugged it off. Unfortunately, not all those it touched could afford to ignore that chilling reminder of what was to come.

Hidden from casual view, an elderly, filthy man lounged against an equally dirty dumpster. He shivered as a breeze found him. Curling upon himself, he mentally cataloged the current, having countless years of exposure to use as a measure. He decided it was time to start the layering on of discards that would insulate him for the winter. He would have to forage farther now, go to the areas where scraps of clothing and odd shoes could be found. He wouldn't roam too far, though. This was his area.

It had been many years since Lijah had cared about the physical side of himself, and the filthy clothing he wore no longer bothered him. The lack of such care served him in its own way. People left him alone, although in his own reality Lijah hadn't really been a solitary figure for countless years now. He was not a lonely man.

Bringing a dirty wine bottle to his lips, he sipped at the bitter dregs left inside. He really didn't care for the stuff, and it sometimes made his stomach ache, but it was an old habit, one too ancient to break.

Lijah wiped at his stubble and mustache while keeping his eyes on the busy street. The view was limited from his current post, but he felt he wasn't missing much. Paying close attention, cataloging the passage of those he knew and those he didn't, he was actually waiting for a glimpse of the car. It wouldn't be too far away now and he didn't want to miss its arrival. The sight of that bold stripe always made him smile.

At the corner of his eye, across the dim and garbage-filled alley, a form shifted and moved within the shadows. It quavered like vapor, a form with no substance. Lijah paid it no special mind, long used to its presence.

"Any minute now," Lijah mumbled. "Just a second or two..."

As if on cue, a flash of bright red and white filled the street. Lijah couldn't see the whole car through the sidewalk traffic, but he could never mistake that car even if he had not been expecting it. He smiled to himself and chuckled.

"Now you can't tell me that that car doesn't represent fearlessness," he said out loud. "They're not afraid to be seen and counted." He smiled, knowing the coming response by heart. They had talked about the detectives many times now, couldn't help but speculate about their future even though it wasn't actually part of the job.

{{Vanity, Lijah. It's all vanity.}}

The form wavered and flowed, looking to Lijah as amused as it sounded.

{{That red just screams for attention. And that white stripe...!}}

"Bravery, Charles. The courage to stand up on the side of everything good and right. No hiding in the crowds for them," Lijah replied happily. He glanced at the dark and shimmering mass.

{{Bravery? Courage? Confidence and self-assurance? Too much of any of those can get them killed, you know.}} Charles replied, sounding a bit sad.

"Yeah, I know." Lijah sighed to himself. It really wasn't part of his job to worry about such things. He knew he shouldn't. "'To each his own destiny, to each his own fight.' You've told me that a million times, my friend."

{{And a million times you've gotten your heart broken. You care too much.}}

"If I didn't care, if we didn't care, we both would have been gone long ago." Lijah relaxed against the cold brick wall, waiting. "If you didn't care about things, you wouldn't be here, hanging around me. You could just pass on like you were supposed to. You don't have to stay and keep me company."

{{It's allowed. It's my choice.}} The form in the darkness seemed to shrug.

"You fought the good fight, my friend," Lijah whispered quietly. "You deserve the rest." He watched the image ripple and waver.

{{We've got a few good years yet,}} Charles replied. {{I think we can both hang on for a bit longer.}}

After a few minutes of companionable silence, Lijah saw his visitors arrive. The pair moved quickly once they had spotted him in the alley. Dressed casually in jeans, T-shirts and light jackets that almost hid the bulge of the gun holsters, the two moved with the confidence of those who were comfortable even in the dirtiest of alleyways.

The man in the lead was very blond, tall and lean. Hutch had a runner's build, moving quickly and lightly, with an ease that belied his size and strength. Lijah watched as ocean-blue eyes that could warm you with concern or freeze you with contempt took in every detail of the alley and its contents. Those same eyes softened at Lijah's welcoming grin.

The other half of the team didn't enter the alley completely. Just slightly shorter than the blond, Starsky was broader and more heavily muscled. Chocolate-colored curls framed a face dominated by quick, cornflower-blue eyes that were no less sharp than his partner's. Starsky leaned casually against the corner of the building, eyes on the street and the alleyway.

"Hey, Lijah," Hutch said warmly, squatting close to him. He laid a large hand on Lijah's thin shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze of concern. "You're sure getting around these days. Starsky and I had a hard time finding you. You wouldn't be hiding from us, would you?"

"Nah, you know me, Hutch." Lijah smiled broadly at the detective, revealing the few dirty teeth he had left. "I just like to change the scenery once in awhile. Got to get these old bones moving around a bit." He waved casually toward Starsky, who smiled and nodded back.

"How're are your ears this week, my friend?"

"They're worth a buck or two." Lijah winked slyly, holding out a grubby hand.

"Sorry, buddy, you know the rules." Hutch raising a finger chidingly. "We need information first."

"Whatcha wantin'?" Lijah asked cautiously. He was afraid he knew what the answer was going to be.

"Anything you've got on the High School Shredder." Hutch winced slightly as he said the words. "You hang around the school down the street, bum from the kids. Hear anything that we ought to know? Any good rumors going around right now?"

Lijah didn't answer immediately. He could feel the concern and tension emanating from the younger man and it pulled at him. He chewed on his tongue for a moment and snuck a peek at Charles, who was little more than a suggestion of motion in the shadows.

{{Don't do it, Lijah. No cheating!}} Charles admonished. {{You know it would be against the rules.}}

Lijah felt the old bitterness rise in his gut. Sometimes he knew more than he wanted to about what went on in this city. It was one of the unpleasant aspects of his job, to know and not be able to act upon the information. He gave Charles a frustrated glare before answering the detective.

"Ah, sorry, Hutch. I can't tell you a thing. But if Charles and I do hear anything you can use...." Lijah shrugged helplessly, hating the disappointment shadowing Hutch's eyes. "If I'd heard anything I could tell you, I would. First thing."

"I know you would." Hutch dug out his wallet and pulled out a ten, handing it over to the vagrant. "Here's something for you and Charles. You spend it on some warm clothes and some food, not that vinegar you call wine. Tell Charles to make sure he gets half of it." He gave the vagrant a pat on a dirty shoulder and rose.

"Thanks," Lijah said warmly. He waved the bill over in his companion's direction. "Charles wants to thank you too, you know. He's real fond of you both."

"Hey, Charles," Hutch waved vaguely in the direction of Lijah's gaze.

Lijah watched as Charles rippled in reply and the blond's features froze. He watched Hutch closely as the suddenly confused-looking man backed away slightly.

"Uhm, take it easy now. We'll catch you later." Looking uneasy, Hutch turned and strode swiftly back to his partner, nodding for the man to follow him down the street.

{{Don't do that anymore!}} Charles admonished, sounding startled. {{I think he could almost-}}

"No. It's too early for them. It was just a fluke," Lijah countered quickly, almost angrily. "They're too young."

{{Everyone is, at one time or another. But if he could see me-}}

"He didn't."

{{Well, even if he did, it's not our problem. But the weather will be soon enough. You need to prepare. Time to go hunting.}}


Starsky strode quickly after his partner, working to catch up with the familiar, long-legged stride. He knew Hutch was tense, so was he, but something had spooked the tall blond over in the alley and he was moving as if to put distance between himself and the scene.

What in the hell's going on now? Starsky wondered in surprise, reaching out to snag Hutch's arm. He's moving like he's seen a ghost. "Wait up. What's the hurry? Lijah give us something good?"

Hutch stopped abruptly and turned to look back at the alley with a confused expression. "Did you see anything in there? Back in the alley with us?" He pulled the collar of his jacket up as if he'd had a chill.

Starsky felt the smile at his lips and stifled it. He knew Hutch would see it anyway. "Why? You finally get introduced to Charles or somethin'?"

"I'm not joking," Hutch snapped, then visibly caught himself and looked sheepish. "Sorry."

"So?" Starsky asked quietly, "What did you see? You looked spooked."

Hutch sighed and chuckled a bit. "Nothing really, I guess. I suddenly had a feeling that there were more than the three of us in that alley. Guess it's time for a day off, huh?"

"Maybe." Starsky leaned back against a shop wall, looking a bit mischievous. "Or maybe you and Lijah have more in common than you think. I always thought you'd make a great vagrant."

Hutch didn't respond to the dig. "How long has Lijah been here anyway?"

Starsky shrugged. He thought for a minute, digging through years of stored information. "Iron Mike once said that when he was a rookie he used to get his best info from Lijah. That was years ago and Mike said he was as old as the hills even then." He shrugged. "I met him when I was a rookie too. Guess the old guy has been around forever."

"Maybe Huggy knows for sure," Hutch said quietly, his eyes still on the alley.

"Hutch," Starsky broke in with exasperation, "we've got enough on our plate with this Shredder thing. I think Lijah's life history can wait a bit."

Hutch sighed and nodded his head. "Yeah, yeah. So, what do we do now? Its not like we've got any clues to go on."

"Let's get somethin' to eat," Starsky suggested, suddenly aware of the time. He nodded to the fast food establishment across the street. "Maybe we'll get an idea." He headed over, knowing his partner would follow, hungry or not.

Starsky ordered the basic hamburger with fries and Hutch stuck with black coffee. Finding seats opposite each other at a fairly clean bench, they settled in quietly.

The murders had started a little over four months ago, landing in the laps of the detectives at Quincy Square. The horror of the deaths had spread across the entire city as the sordid details became the regular fare of the evening newspapers. It had all begun on a clear Sunday morning when what used to be an sixteen-year-old girl had been found in a heap of limbs, organs and torso on the outskirts of the city. Perfect news fodder for a city suffering from the building heat of summer.

The next month, on another Sunday morning, a second girl had been found, cut to pieces and disemboweled, placed in a bloody pile to be discovered on an otherwise pristine and empty beach. She had been even younger. That murder had made it an official serial killing. So far, two other Sundays had been cursed with the discovery of a mutilated corpse. The pressure to solve the case was being felt by everyone in law enforcement, from the meter maids to the D.A. himself.

Even though none of the detectives from Metro had been officially involved with the cases, all of them were keeping their ears and eyes open for anything that might help. Starsky and Hutch kept trying their own sources, checking out anything they could think of while they were working on their own cases. But so far they had found nothing that would help.

Four months now, four dead girls. Starsky eyed his half-eaten meal with distaste. He pushed it away, having consumed just enough to keep his stomach from growling. There's got to be a break here somewhere. I'm not sure whether I'm glad or disappointed that we aren't personally on this one.

"You know," Hutch began, leaning tiredly over his untouched coffee, "I'm not sure if I'm glad or not." A quick, cool breeze brushed over them and they both pulled their light jackets closer.

"Thinkin' the same," Starsky admitted, knowing that the case was never far from either of their minds. We're crazy, both of us, he decided. If we'd gotten it, we would've felt responsible for every death that came along. And yet...

"There's got to be something," Hutch muttered.

"Again?" Starsky asked after a few moments' silence.

Hutch swirled his coffee, nodding his head in agreement. A lot of the details of the murders were still under file and on a 'need to know' bases, but the basics were familiar. They would go over it again.

"Okay." Starsky sipped his soda while deciding how to start. "All four girls were in high school, the youngest at 14 and the oldest at 16 years old. All came from different schools and were from lower to middle class families. Two had boyfriends, one had just broken up and the other wasn't dating at the time. All four were supposed to be out for the evening, but the boyfriends didn't seem to know anything about it. Both of the current boyfriends have alibis and the ex-boyfriend can't prove he was alone at home all evening."

"The parents don't know anything," Hutch added, as if by rote. "They all were just 'out' with friends. Someone must have picked up all four girls as none of them took their family's cars or asked anyone for a ride. They all just walked out of their front doors on a Saturday afternoon and never came back."

"None of the four knew each other. Not a hell of a lot to go on here."

"Never is, unless you've got a crystal ball."

They were both silent for a few minutes. "Rounds or paperwork?" Hutch asked tiredly, checking his pocket watch.

"That's a choice?" Starsky stood and gathered up the rest of his uneaten meal, tossing it into the nearest garbage can. "Guess we'd better go and check in with Dobey, so he'll know we still work there."

"Probably too late." Hutch winced. "If he's seen the backlog we've got on our desks, he's probably hired replacements already and has us labeled MIA."

"Great," Starsky answered with a mischievous grin. "Then let's not go back until they get it done."


They'd spent the rest of the afternoon making the round of their beat. It seemed to be one of those days when nothing much seemed to be going on. All they really managed to do was to make themselves visible, which was important. It wasn't a good idea to be gone from the streets for too long, or the bad guys might think they could get away with all kinds of things.

But today it just didn't seem like enough. Hutch shifted restlessly in the passenger seat of the Torino. He needed to do something. He wanted to catch a sick, murdering bastard, not sit on his ass at the station or in the Torino. Unfortunately he couldn't think of anything different to try, anyone new to ask. He could only wonder how frustrated the special task force handling the case must feel.

"So what now?" Starsky asked tiredly as they sat at a red light. "We've been everywhere at least once today."

"Hell if I know," Hutch snapped.

"Gotta do somethin' if we're going to get our asses' chewed for playin' paperwork hooky again."

"Haven't done anything so far this week. Why break a perfect record?"

Starsky flashed him an irritated glare. "You're a hell of a lotta help here, you know." He snorted in disgust. "I think I'd be better off trading you in for Bigalow. He's got more character and I'd bet he's better company too."

The outrageous thought of the Supply Sergeant sitting in Starsky's car made Hutch snicker in spite of his bad mood. "Sorry. Guess I just hate this sit and wait stuff. As of now, I'm all tapped out. You have any ideas?"

Starsky continued driving, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "What about that new place, up by the high school? Isn't there a new store we haven't checked out yet? Might as well go and look around, see what's there."

"The high school?" Hutch searched his inner map, trying to locate the new business. Both of them had their territory well memorized by now and it only took him a few seconds to remember the building Starsky was talking about. "What? Isn't that a knick-knack store or something? Hasn't been there long."

"But it's near the school. Kids will talk a helluva lot more amongst themselves than they will to cops. Maybe the proprietor has heard something."

Hutch shrugged, watching the milling sidewalk crowd as they passed building after building. "Worth a shot, I guess."

The new shop was only a block from the high school. It had been a clothing store that had folded years ago and the building itself had been cut into smaller sections for lease. Its dirty exterior was riddled with patches of various colored brick, making it look like it was always in danger of falling in. One of the middle shops had been empty for months, but now its wide plate glass front was artistically arranged with nice pieces of used furniture and various lamps. Beyond the show window of 'Prior Mystique' Hutch could see rows and rows of shelving that filled the dim store.

As soon as they entered he saw several people browsing. The clerk behind the counter, an elderly man, was talking quietly with a customer. He was well-dressed and portly, with gray hair and a pudgy face dominated by thick, black glasses. His tidiness was reflected in the refreshing neatness of the shop.

Starsky continued casually to the back, browsing as he went while Hutch stopped for a moment to look around. There were shelves everywhere with various bric-a-brac and the walls were covered as well, but it didn't feel cluttered. None of the items were garage sale throw-outs. While the stock might not be 'antique', they had obviously been lovingly cared for.

What's this? Hutch's eye was caught by a highly polished wooden box on one of the shelves. He picked it up, liking the weight of it in his hand. It was made for a man's dresser, to hold keys and cuff-links and the rest of the jewelry that had become popular men's wear. Good quality. Real wood and not veneer. Nice price. He replaced the box in its space after checking the tag, and looked at the tag of the small vase next to it. The owner can't be making too much money at those prices; can't see it going for much less than that at an auction. There are quite a few of the older, but well maintained, homes not too far away; he could do a pretty quick turn-over on this kind of merchandise.

The customer who was with the clerk made his purchase and the older man approached the next customer in line. Hutch knew that Starsky was holding back until they could talk to the man privately, if possible. No use coming in and making more noise than they had to. Hutch joined his partner at a glass counter that seemed to have caught his interest.

"Watches, Starsk?" Hutch eyed the display over his shoulder. "Don't you think you've got enough already?"

"Hey, you can never have enough time." Starsky tapped carefully on the glass. "He's got some really nice pieces here. And you know, the prices aren't bad."

Hutch glanced quickly through the offerings. He didn't see the attraction. Returning his attention to the clerk, Hutch nudged Starsky as the next customer left the store, leaving them alone with the older man.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen." The man approached them with a polite smile. "May I help you with something?"

"Hello," Hutch responded with matching courtesy, presenting his badge. "I'm Detective Ken Hutchinson and this is my partner, Detective David Starsky. We'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."

The man didn't flinch or look concerned, but held out his hand to shake theirs. "My name is Randolph Thomas. I own this place and put in a few hours myself every afternoon. Pleased to meet you both. What can I do for you?"

"We do a lot of investigating in this area," Starsky began. "And we thought maybe you could help us out. Do you ever get any kids or teenagers in here?"

"Here? Well, I've only been open just over a couple of months, just after school started. I see quite a few children outside in the mornings and after school, but only a few of them actually come in. As you can see, we don't offer many items that would appeal to them."

Hutch nodded his understanding. "My partner and I are looking into the murder of four young girls. We were wondering if you might have heard anything the kids in the area might be discussing along those lines. And we also thought we'd take the time to come in and introduce ourselves."

Mr. Thomas shook his head sadly. "I am aware of those grisly murders, but I can't help you much, officer. I truly wish I could."

"What about the rest of the day, when you're not here?" Starsky waved a hand toward what looked to be an office door. "Do you have any help that might have heard something?"

"Well, I do have a young man come in to help me and he stays the evening and closes up at night. His name is Jeffery Trent, but he won't be in until later this afternoon. I can ask him if you like."

"Thanks." Starsky smiled. "We'd appreciate it if you would. And if you don't mind, I'd kinda like to look at some of those watches you have."

"Certainly! Let me open the case for you."

Hutch threw a mild glare at his partner and was thoroughly ignored. Might as well let him get it out of his system, he decided. It's not like we've got anything pressing at the moment.

Hutch walked away from the two men, wandering down to eye the jewelry in the cases. Most of the displays contained costume pieces, nice but not worth much. He moved on down to the men's section, looking through the meager selection. Tie tacks, cufflinks and gaudy pinkie rings seemed to comprise the majority of the stock.

Hey, that's nice! His attention was caught by a glint of silver on a lower shelf. There, almost hidden among the other pieces, was a man's bracelet. It was about an inch wide, silver, and etched with an intricate decoration that covered the entire surface. Hutch couldn't quite make out the design from outside the case, but he felt strangely drawn to it. It's not an Indian pattern, he decided, squatting closer to peer thought the thick glass. It doesn't look Mexican. I can't quite make out whether it is actually some kind of script, or maybe its just part of the design or-

"Sir? May I help you?"

Hutch started, realizing that Starsky had already finished his perusal. Two pairs of eyes were focused on him, one pair polite, the other amused. "Ah... yes. Could I see that men's bracelet?" he asked sheepishly.

The proprietor removed the item from the case as Starsky sidled up next to Hutch, hovering over his shoulder.

Taking the bracelet carefully, Hutch was surprised at its weight. This was no stamped-out piece of silver, but something solid and hand etched. It had no clasp, but it was "C" shaped with a narrow opening in back through which he could slip his wrist..

A vast amount of work had gone into the design. Every bit of the outer surface area was covered with an almost three-dimensional relief. There seemed to be landscapes, forests and even city scenes in the mixture, as if someone had overlaid scene after scene upon its surface. It's almost as if you could look at it forever and still not see everything the artist included, he thought with awe.

He was rudely startled out of his inspection by a painful jab in his ribs.

"So? We gotta go," Starsky said with impatience.

Hutch felt as if he had somehow drifted off and shook his head to clear it. "I'll take it," he announced after checking the attached tag. He knew Starsky was looking at him strangely, but he didn't care. It was his money and if he wanted to pay a bit more for something nice, why not?

As they left the store he placed in on his right wrist, marveling at how comfortable and warm it felt. Like it was made for me, he decided happily.

"So, are we pretty enough now? Think you can distract Dobey with that thing? Keep him from chewin' our asses off?"

"Hey, don't take your disappointment out on me, just because I got a great deal," Hutch shot back. "You're just jealous." He smiled smugly at his partner as he opened the Torino's door.

"Yeah, I'm real depressed 'cause I didn't get suckered into buying that hunk of junk," Starsky replied sarcastically. "Heck, give me a beat-up chrome bumper and a blow torch and I could make a livin' selling arm chokers just like that."

"Sure." Hutch snorted, eyeing his new purchase happily. "Why don't you give your resignation to me and I'll just pass it right on to Dobey. That'll keep his mind off the paperwork for awhile."

"Sorry, pal." Starsky flashed him one of his 100 watt smiles. "You ain't getting rid of me that easily. I'm your very own personal curse. And don't you forget it."

Hutch only grunted in answer. Never could, never would, he thought affectionately. Who ever said all curses were bad for you?


Two days passed as uneventfully as any cop could wish for. There were no new killings, no big drug deals going down and just enough action to keep them working. Only it was the kind of 'keeping busy' Starsky hated: days filled with court dates, testifying and catching up on reams of paperwork. He really enjoyed the freedom of cruising the streets in the Torino. Sitting in courtrooms and at his desk just made his ass sore.

He nibbled a chip as he re-read a file. Hutch, sitting across from him, had already done his homework. The court case this afternoon was a drug bust that had gone down months ago and both of them wanted to make sure they had every detail memorized for testimony.

Slick Joe Tito. Starsky smirked at the mug shot at the top of the file. You're gonna go down long and hard for this one. You should'a rolled for us, kid.

Joe had been caught with drugs one too many times to get leniency from any judge. Knowing that the man had some important connections, the assistant D.A. had offered him a better deal than he deserved, but Joe had refused to point out his suppliers.

He thinks he's a tough guy, holding his boss outta the lime-light. He better hope this boss trusts him to keep his mouth shut once he's in prison, or he won't last long. Starsky shook his head at the thought. Don't they ever realize that keeping the faith with these drug lords is like making a pact with the devil? While you're kissing ass and useful you're safe, but once you get pulled outta the action, then they'll take your soul and to hell with their promises.

"Hey," Hutch announced, startling him out of his thoughts. "It's a quarter to. We'd better go down and get changed." He got up, stretched and tossed another file into the out-box. "You know what Kropcheck says."

"'You'd both better be on time, or Dobey'll hear about it!'" they chorused, both with high and squeaky voices.

The impromptu floor show earned a couple of chuckles from their fellow detectives. Everyone in homicide had had to work with the troll-like assistant D.A. While he was supposed to be on the police's side, he acted like being in the same room with a cop was an irritation beyond endurance. The man fussed and squeaked like nails on a blackboard.

"So you two have The Troll this afternoon?" Abe Vernson asked with a chuckle. The older detective shook his head with amusement. "Well, I could say that I feel for you two, but that would be a damned lie. Better the Terrier Twins suffer for the day than me. You two deserve him more than I do."

"Aroooooooough!" Starsky howled just low enough to keep from catching Dobey's attention if he was in his office. "Watch what you wish on us, Abe. Terriers have teeth."

"Yeah, you take care of that nasty attitude," Hutch warned Vernson over his shoulder as he and Starsky made their way through the doorway. "Or I'll set my partner on you and you know his breath is worse than his bite."

The laughter from the squad room was abruptly cut off with the closing of the doors as they made their way down the busy hallway, heading for the basement.

"That's my partner," Starsky declared in mock disgust. "Defend me to the death, but humiliate me in front of those who love and admire me." He swung a playful punch Hutch's shoulder and laughed as he dodged the blow, almost tripping himself to do it.

The locker room was practically empty and they were able to shower and shave in record time. Starsky didn't know why, but it seemed that he and Hutch were cursed when it came to dressing for court. Somehow, someway, they never seemed to make it there without some stain, smear or snag to ruin their professional look. Although it was a hassle to carry the stuff in and store it, they were much safer changing into their suits as near to court time as possible.

They were almost ready. Starsky, reaching down to tie a shoe, felt his gut clench painfully. He gasped as the world around him suddenly went dark and fluid, fear filling him as he felt himself teetering on the edge of nothingness.

What...?! Hutch?!! He frantically reached out, searching for the familiar support. A second before his hand could find his partner, he drew it back with a gasp. He felt as if it had almost touched something... foul. Hutch?! The feeling passed in an instant, as if a switch had been flipped, leaving him dizzy, shaking and slightly nauseous.

He stood carefully, not wanting the dizziness to get worse, feeling his hands shaking. He took a calming breath and closed his eyes, surprised at how quickly the feelings passed. "Man! I think I almost fainted."

There was no answer. Turning toward his partner, he was surprised to see Hutch motionless, eyes fixed and staring at the open locker in front of him. Hutch must have felt it too! Starsky felt his hackles rise at the thought.

It was only a second, maybe two, before he could reach out a hand to finish the gesture he had started. Hutch jolted slightly at the touch and went pale.

"Hey, partner?" Starsky asked cautiously, still confused himself. "You okay?" 'Cause I'm not certain I am.

Hutch flushed slightly. The look he gave Starsky was one of guilt and confusion. "Ah, yeah. Sure." The blond flashed him an unconvincing smile and turned away, hand rubbing at wrist. "Just drifted away there for a minute."

Yeah, you and me both. Starsky stayed silent for a moment, watching as his partner resumed dressing as nothing had happened. "Did...did you feel anything just then?"

Hutch paused for a second, then stood to finish straightening his jacket. "Nope. Why? You coming down with something?"

"I don't know, but all of a sudden I felt...." He could feel his brows furrow as he tried to find the words. "It was nasty. Like something evil was standing behind me, breathing down my neck or somethin'. Didn't you...?"

"No. I'm fine." The answer was quick and unconvincing. "Must have been that sandwich you had for lunch. All the fat and preservatives must have finally made it up to your brain." Hutch's smile was shallow, the eyes serious and evasive.

"Must be," Starsky answered quietly, feeling confused. Okay, Detective, try explaining that one to a shrink. Whatever it was, he felt it too, but he doesn't want to admit it. Starsky finished tying his shoe, keeping his friend in the corner of his eye. What was that?

Even now the memory was fading and he was tempted to just write the whole thing off. Maybe Hutch was right, he thought, studying himself in his locker mirror. But if it was just me, why is Hutch acting so strange? It can't just be because Kropcheck has us spooked.

The thought of the small, annoying man spooking anyone brought a smile to his face and he chuckled at his own image in the mirror.

"And the rest of us think you look funny too," Hutch threw in as he came up behind him, smiling a little uncertainly over Starsky's shoulder, eyes meeting eyes in the reflection.

Starsky just straightened his tie and put on his most dignified face, glad the strange moment was over. "Well, this time we're not only going to be early and well prepared, but we're going to put Joe away for a long time. Kropcheck isn't going to have any reason to screech at us or Dobey."

"Amen," Hutch replied wholeheartedly, looking perfectly normal now as he fussed with his hair in the mirror. "Come on, we'd better get a move on. I don't trust that tomato of yours with such an important meeting. I don't want to be late."

At the locker room door, they were met by Minnie bearing a large manila envelope.

"Hey you two, I'm not your personal secretary," she scolded loudly, thrusting a file into Hutch's hands while giving Starsky a blinding smile. "But for you sweetie, I'll make an exception. Just give me an excuse to go in there after you."

"Doll, it'd be a severe disappointment," Starsky answered her teasing leer with mock sadness. "You're better off staying out here, where your fantasies are safe and sound."

"Starsky, how little you know me," she sighed, pushing up thick glasses. "Safe fantasies aren't my style and at my place," she stage-whispered, "you can sound as loud as you want."

"You'd better cool it, Minnie," Hutch interrupted with a hint of a smile, handing the folder over to Starsky. "The man doesn't have time for another cold shower. You know what you do to him."

Starsky flipped through the file "What gives? The Governor finally pardon us?"

"Not hardly. You're still doing life as a detective, poor thing." Minnie shrugged and grimaced, turning to leave. "It's a love letter from Kropcheck. He wants you to study it on the way to the courthouse. I just think he wanted to remind you two to show up."

Starsky looked through the file again, which was just a copy of the one they had brought with them. Well, so much for government efficiency, he thought with growing annoyance. Man! For such a small guy, that Assistant D.A. can sure irritate a large number of people.

It wasn't until he had taken a few steps toward the rear exit when he noticed he was alone. Hutch was still standing at the locker room door, staring past him in deep concentration. Turning to look, Starsky saw some of the uniformed officers make their way out the rear exit toward the parking lot, laughing and joking about an upcoming bachelor party.

Oh, man! I forgot Rogers was getting married. Starsky remembered hearing it on the office grape vine. But what's got the Blintz's attention? He get invited or somethin'? He doesn't know the guy that well.

"What?" Starsky asked quietly.

He watched as the confused look returned to the fair face. Hutch looked back, as if he were uncertain of what to say. "I don't know. I think we'd better go back upstairs."

"To Homicide? What for? Did we forget something?"

"No." Hutch moved decisively, striding swiftly as if he had made up his mind.

Feeling a chill, Starsky followed close behind as his partner threaded his way through the busy hall and practically commandeered an elevator.

Whatever's going on in his head is serious, Starsky decided, moving quickly to keep up. He's moving like he's got a mission. Just wish he'd let this Private in on the orders.

Hutch ran through the crowded hall, stopping suddenly at the Homicide doors. Before Starsky could ask his question, Hutch raised his hand sharply, signaling for his partner's silence. He moved to peek around the door and through the hall windows into the squad room.

Going lower, Starsky peered into the room, keeping himself hidden as Hutch was, ignoring the strange stares they were drawing from the passing crowd. At Hutch's signal a couple of uniformed officers began halting the traffic on either end of the long hallway.

This had better be good, Starsky mused as he checked out his view of the squad room. There were six detectives and nine civilians in the room. I hope Hutch figures out what pushed his buttons, or we're both going to look pretty foolish storming into Homicide in our dress clothes.

"Vernson," Hutch hissed.

The older detective was sitting at his desk, typing. A thin and dirty looking man was sitting quietly in the chair beside him. It looked as though Vernson were taking a statement.

Caucasian male, early twenties, nervous looking and wearing a bulky jacket, Starsky cataloged automatically. Don't know him. The man shifted and glanced around while apparently answering Vernson's questions. That's an awful heavy jacket for such a warm fall.

Starsky felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up into confident blue eyes. Time to go, they signaled.

Taking a second to straighten themselves out, they walked quietly into the squad room.

Few seemed to notice their entrance. Starsky nodded to a couple of the other detectives, letting them assume that he and his partner had just come back for something they had forgotten. Hutch continued past their desk and walked over to the cabinets behind Vernson. Starsky stopped and tossed the file down on his own desk, watching the scene from the corner of his eye.

When it came, it happened almost too fast for him to react.

At a sharp word from Vernson, Hutch pounced, getting the stranger in a head lock just as a gun appeared in his hand. Starsky was just drawing a bead on the suspect when Vernson moved into his way. He cursed silently, only able to watch as Vernson forced the stranger's gun up and away. The blast of the revolver rolled like thunder, plaster dust from the new hole in the ceiling falling on the struggling men below.

"POLICE! FREEZE!" Starsky bellowed, targeting the stranger as best he could between his partner and Vernson. He could see from the corner of his eye that his wasn't the only gun out and trained. Come on, man! Don't be a complete idiot here.

The stranger suddenly wilted, allowing Vernson to remove the gun from his hand and secure the weapon. One of the closer detectives rushed over with his own cuffs and the rest of the room relaxed their stance as soon as the suspect was restrained.

Starsky replaced his gun and walked over as Hutch handed the man off to others for the trip to Booking. The rest of the room became noisy again as the hubbub of telephones, typewriters and hushed voices signaled that the excitement was over.

Well, this ought to fuel the office gossip for a few minutes, Starsky mused. 'Specially if these two guys go out and about looking like that. He might have chuckled at the sight of the white-speckled duo in front of him if he hadn't known they were in no mood for levity. Yet. "How're you doin', Abe?" His eyes asked the same of his partner.

Vernson sat down heavily in his chair, shaking his head in disbelief at the plaster and paper mess on his desk and surrounding floor. "I'm a hell of a lot better now than I would have been if you two hadn't happened along."

"Who was he?" Hutch asked, still pale and serious. He had taken over the newly vacated chair, hand rubbing at his wrist, eyes on Vernson.

"Just a guy who said he had information on the Murphy homicide." Vernson wiped at his face in surprise, just now seeming to realize he was covered in plaster dust himself. "That's the case I've got coming up this afternoon. An idiot named Trevor Juno tried to shake down a store clerk and before the poor guy could even get the safe open, Juno panicked and killed him. When I arrested Juno he was so nervous he spilled his guts before, during and after I read him Miranda. The guy's gonna go down heavy on this one."

"So, this guy had more information?" Starsky asked, pretty sure he knew what was coming.

"Yeah," Vernson replied with disgust, digging a handkerchief from a pocket and trying to clean himself up. "Came in saying he had vital information for the case and would only talk to the detective who made the arrest."

"Must be a brother or a cousin," Hutch added quietly.

"Dumb ass," Starsky said with disgust. "Killin' you wouldn't affect the case since they've got your signed statement. 'N how in the hell was he gonna get rid of you and get outta a room full of cops?"

"Who knows?" The older detective said with a sigh. "But that seems to represent the I.Q. level of the entire family. I wouldn't be surprised to find that he's a younger brother. Guess I'm not awful bright myself. I should have sent him straight to the D.A.'s office and let them interview him, but no." Vernson waved a dismissive hand. "I had to see if I could earn some brownie points by bringing them a surprise gift just hours before trial."

"Not dumb, Abe," Starsky chided. "We all know that witnesses and snitches can be pretty insistent on talkin' only to certain cops. You might have spooked the guy by sending him to the D.A." He waited a moment for his partner to continue the pep-talk, but Hutch stayed mute and distracted. He was staring off into the distance, leaving Starsky at a loss as to what to say next.

"Maybe," Vernson answered doubtfully into the uncomfortable silence. "But who knows how Dobey will see it?"

They were all three startled by the sudden, thundering voice from behind them.

"What in the name of Sam Hill is going on here?!" Dobey bellowed, his large bulk effectively blocking the exit. "Somebody had better report, as in now!"

Starsky cringed, suddenly glad that he and Hutch had someplace else to go. Vernson would make his report, Dobey would 'gruff and grumble' and give them all quadruple forms to complete in triplicate. His rumbling would hide the fact that he was relieved that no one was hurt, anxious that they never let their guard down and upset at the danger they faced in their own squad room. But right now, Starsky wasn't in the mood for it.

Vernson rolled his eyes at them and stood, unintentionally shaking even more bits of plaster onto his desk. "That would be me, sir," he answered, walking to Dobey's office and receiving a set of raised eyebrows from the Captain for his trouble. Apparently Dobey hadn't picked out Vernson as the member of their group most likely to be at the center of the commotion.

"Well? Aren't you two late for something?" he asked gruffly, eyes darting from Starsky to Hutch. "I seemed to remember a court case you two are scheduled to appear at."

"Ah, yes Cap'n," Starsky replied swiftly, glad to get away. He grabbed the almost-forgotten file and his silent partner's arm and steered them both past the hulking man in the doorway, who made way for the slightly shedding blond. "On our way, sir."

"And I want you both back here straight afterward for your reports!" Dobey threw after them as they moved swiftly down the hall. "And try to clean yourselves up!"

It wasn't until they entered the empty stairwell that Starsky actually stopped dragging his partner. They both took a breath and he reached out and brushed out at dust-covered shoulders, chuckling a bit. "Hutch, you look like you've either been under the first bit of snowfall, or you've got one hell of a case of dandruff." He watched as Hutch suddenly seemed to notice what a mess he was.

"Damn!" He took out a comb to try to remove the plaster from his hair. "Kropcheck is going to rake us down one side and another. Let's get going and I'll see if I can get cleaned up on the way."

"Sure, just...." Starsky grimaced as he brushed at a dusty arm. "Before you get in the car, okay?"

With a glare that would have killed a lesser man, Hutch proceeded quickly down the stairs, muttering nasty things under his breath about a certain Torino of his acquaintance.

This sure has been a weird afternoon, Starsky thought as he followed his partner down the stairs. I would have sworn that guy wasn't anywhere in the squad room when we left to get ready for court. "What did the kid do to tip you off?" Starsky asked.

"What are you talking about?"

"The idiot upstairs. What tipped you off about him goin' after Vernson like that? I didn't even notice him when we left."

Hutch stopped and turned a puzzled look up in his direction. "He wasn't there when we left, Starsk."

"Oh. Then why did we go back upstairs?"

Starsky watched as doubt, confusion, and a touch of panic played over the fair features, until they finally settled into blank indifference.

"Forgot something."

"Forgot what?" Starsky asked carefully, watching as the barest flicker of anger flashed and disappeared from his partner's eyes. What's with this? Holding something back? From me?

"I don't remember." Hutch's reply was cold and clipped as he turned away. "Whatever it was, we're going to have to do without it. We're late," he snapped in something close to an accusation.

Something weird is going on, all right. And he's part of it. Starsky pondered his friend's reactions. It may have ended well, but this isn't good. Not good at all.


The court case had been delayed, so they had been present and prepared by the time they were called to testify. Even so, Kropcheck had decided to take out his frustrations on them, and his nit-picking complaint about their tardiness had hit Dobey's office before them. The Captain didn't take Kropcheck too seriously, so Starsky and Hutch had easily placated him with finished reports before quitting for the day.

A few days had passed since then, and with nothing more exciting happening than having to make their normal street rounds, Hutch felt more sensitive to the undercurrent of tension on the street and in his fellow officers. He sat quietly in the Torino as Starsky pumped gas, and found his mind wandering, rubbing at the silver bracelet, feeling the action make the silver grow warm and soft, almost like a living thing.

Three more days and then we'll know. Hutch felt certain that another murder was going to happen. Serial killers just didn't stop on their own. But why Sunday? I don't think the deaths have any religious significance.

One of the favorite theories making the rounds was that the killings had a Satanic connection. Hutch himself had thought it made as much sense as anything else, but lately he had completely given up on the notion. He felt it was a dead end. Why do I feel so sure? What have I seen or heard that would convince me it's the wrong way to go?

He was shaken out of his thoughts when the driver's door opened and Starsky sat heavily, obviously tired and worn. "So, what's next on our busy schedule?"

They had a few hours with nothing pressing. Hutch knew what case Starsky wanted to work on. But he, for one, was flat out of ideas. "Hell if I know. Where haven't we been lately?"

Starsky pulled the Torino out into traffic. "Haven't made the school rounds yet. We could hit Junior's place. What do you think?"

"I think we might as well, since you're already heading for it," Hutch replied with more annoyance than he actually felt.

Starsky only frowned in response.

It didn't take them long to get to the arcade. Located in the grungiest part of the inner city, it had once been a gas station with a large service area. Now, with several school busses loading and unloading nearby, it had become a favorite hang-out for the local kids who didn't seem to have any other place to go. Junior somehow made a living by turning the vacated station into a welcome place for the kids to come to spend their pocket money. The man was strict in keeping his place clear of the gangs and hoodlums that might have made his arcade a hotbed of trouble. Fortunately, few bothered with the 300 lb., 6 foot 4 inch, gray-bearded man. All the kids loved him and regularly filled him in on all the gossip that was making the school rounds.

Junior had set up the arcade shortly after the detectives had come on the scene. He had been checked out as thoroughly as possible. Every rug the detectives had ever turned over in their investigation had been clean underneath. Despite himself, Hutch had come to see him as some kind of inner city Santa Claus.

As usual, Junior was sitting over in his favorite corner of the arcade, talking with an older group of boys and drinking a pop. Hutch moved carefully around the crowded room, content to leave the questioning to Starsky.

He marveled at the amount of kids and pinball machines Junior had been able to stuff into the area. There were all different ages milling about in a bee-hive of activity and noise. The only relatively still space was filled with children watching an old black-and-white TV. Here the smaller, more helpless ones felt safe from bullies, gangs and drug dealers.

Hutch's eye was caught by a little black boy who looked to be about three years old. The boy was skinny, a bit scruffy and was begging chips from an older boy. The teen gave him a few chips along with a playful shove. The smaller boy went back to the TV set, already distracted by the show as he munched his meager snack. Something about the child nagged at him. He watched the child closely, as if he should know him, as if....


...the entire world exploded with sound and motion, staggering in its power and pressure. As reality tilted crazily, Hutch caught a strobe-like flash of car interior. Movement that was at once blindingly fast and agonizingly slow blurred the edges of the forms surrounding him. His view twisted and rolled before he could grab for a flickering image to steady himself. Starsky's voice sang by him in a rapid-fire, unintelligible burst, coming from nowhere and everywhere. He tried to turn toward it, seeking out its center, but the world tilted again as his friend's soul-anguished cry tore through him...


...and then it was gone, leaving Hutch once again staring at a small boy in a corner of the arcade.

What the hell was that? He gulped for air - dizzy, weak and confused. Glancing around quickly, noting that no-one seemed to have noticed anything, he leaned against a pinball machine, needing the support as he felt his heart thundering in his chest and his limbs shaking.

Was that some kind of attack? I think I've felt that before. He found himself rubbing the new bracelet fiercely, as if trying to rub its smooth inner surface into his skin. He quit the gesture, even though it was somehow comforting.

Something is going to go terribly wrong. We've got to get out of here. He felt scared. He wanted to stay, he wanted to leave, suddenly confused as to which direction was the safest. Just get to Starsky, he decided, unable to sort out all the jumble inside. Something's going to break loose and I'll need to be with him when it does.

He turned and headed back toward the front of the room, carefully avoiding the children that swarmed around him. He was relieved to see his partner still quietly talking with Junior.

Starsky's okay. He took a deep breath in relief as he approached the pair. I'm okay. He's okay. It must have been something I ate. Too much frustration and too little actual action on this Shredder case. The fear he had felt seemed to wash from him, growing more and more diluted the closer he came to his friend. It seemed as if it were only a bad memory now, best forgotten. Hutch sighed at the disappointed look Starsky flashed him. Some day we've really got to get a life. No news is supposed to be good news.

Starsky nodded a parting to Junior and met Hutch near the doorway. "Nothin'," he grumbled, pausing to walk carefully around a young one in his way. "Let's go."

They made their way to the Torino, dodging groups of older teens and laughing games of tag. Hutch felt a strange itching between his shoulders, feeling a flash of deja vu as he came upon the familiar red car. He ignored the suggestion of fear hiding behind the feeling.

Deja vu? Hutchinson, you're getting strange and crazy in your old age. You've got to actually be new to a place before you can feel like you've been there before. Most of your life has been spent in this car. He almost chuckled as he slid into the familiar seat, trying to shake the unease.

"What now?" Starsky asked in a tired voice. "Do we finish up the paperwork this evening, or call it quits and go in early tomorrow?"

Hutch shrugged, not really listening, eyes scanning the local foot traffic. "I don't care. Might as well get the paperwork done."

Starsky pulled into traffic, apparently satisfied with the suggestion. Hutch really didn't care what they did, but the itch in his spine kept getting stronger.

"All units, corner of Forento and Stevenson," the police radio crackled, startling Hutch for a second. "10-33 reported at Federal Union Savings and Loan. All responding units report."

"Zebra Three responding," Hutch answered before he'd even realized he'd picked up the mike. He braced himself as the Torino surged forward in a burst of speed. He grabbed for the Mars light and switched it on. Well, now we have something to do.

The Torino flew, the siren clearing their way through one intersection after another. They were still several blocks away from the robbery scene, but Hutch could feel the itch in his spine turn to anxiety.

Something's wrong! He knew it with deadly certainty. His gut crawled, screaming at him to do something, to stop whatever it was that was happening. What?! What is it? What can I be so afraid of?

Between one heartbeat and the next, time slowed to almost a snail's pace. He had been here before, the place where your next move, your next decision, could mean life or death. In this world of molasses Hutch saw what he had unknowingly feared to see.

The reflected flash of the Mars light from the hood.

I've been here before. I know this moment.

The yellow flash of color from a badly parked car.

There, at the right time, in the right place.

Starsky, passing the blue station wagon.

It's closer. It's coming!

The business signs that flashed by too quickly, the stares of the group at the bus stop, the homeless man weaving down the sidewalk, the-


In a moment of sheer panic Hutch threw himself almost on top of his partner, stomping down with all his might on the brake pedal. He threw all his weight into the movement, grabbing on to steering wheel and dashboard so that he wouldn't be thrown. Starsky cursed in surprise and wrestled the wheel, trying to bring the massive machine under control at its high rate of speed.

Finally Hutch saw it in the corner of his eye, moving as slowly as the rest of the world. The top of a small, dark-haired head bobbed just behind the hood of a parked car. Tiny shoes flashed for a second in between tire and pavement, giving only a hint of the little body moving with a two-year-old's speed straight into traffic.

As the world slowly turned in a spiral, Hutch lost sight of the youngster. He felt his heart beating a frantic race in his chest as time twisted into normal speed. He was thrown back into the passenger seat, losing his grip as Starsky frantically fought the Torino's momentum. The car skidded with a tire-burning screech as it came to a stop sideways in the middle of the street, both of them thrown rudely to a halt. The scream of the siren died at the death of the engine, leaving only the slight reflection of the Mars light in a shop window to remind them of their aborted mission.

Hutch felt as if he was frozen in place, unable to follow his frantic partner out of the car and into the street. He couldn't look out of the windows, couldn't watch the gathering crowd. He longed to go and reassure Starsky that he really had missed the little boy and everything was indeed all right, but he couldn't. He listened to the murmur of the crowd and the relieved sobs of a scared young mother. He could hear the calming resonance of his partner's voice reassuring both the mother and child as he checked the child out for himself. Even from there Hutch could hear the shock in Starsky's voice, knew how shaken up he must be. But all he could do was sit and stare at his trembling hands.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way, he realized, feeling sick with his certainty. Starsky didn't see the kid in time. We hit him and he was dragged under the car. It was too fast and he was too little. The kid didn't have a chance. The mother screamed and was inconsolable, the crowd unforgiving, and Starsky... Hutch cringed at the false memory. He drew a haggard breath, willing that part of non-history out of his mind. But it didn't happen that way. I stopped it. Because I knew.

"Zebra Three," the radio crackled, drawing his attention.

"Zebra Three," Hutch responded dully.

"Cancel 10-33 at Federal Union. Unit at location confirms false alarm. Sorry Hutch," the dispatcher added kindly. "Got you guys all worked up for nothing."

"10-4, Mildred. Log us 10-7-O-D while you're at it. Zebra Three out." Hutch replaced the mike just as Starsky slid into the driver's seat, slamming the door shut and starting the Torino to move it out of the honking, frustrated traffic. Hutch reached for the Mars light and turned it off, almost shuddering at the bloody color. Glancing at Starsky, he could see his shock in the short, crisp movements and the tenseness of his body. Starsky's continued silence and his reluctance to look at him told Hutch that Starsky had been thoroughly terrified by what had almost happened.

Who wouldn't be? Hutch wondered. He's thinking of Lonnie Craig, that kid he had to kill in self-defense. Only this would be a million times worse. It would have been a senseless accident and he would never have forgiven himself for it.

"Dispatch said it was a false alarm," Hutch said quietly, knowing that the information wouldn't help any. "We're off duty now. I logged us out."

They were both silent while Starsky straightened the Torino and proceeded down the street among the blare of horns. He pulled carefully into an empty spot and turned off the motor, continuing to stare straight ahead.

"Damn, Hutch." His knuckles white around the steering wheel. "I'm...sorry. I never saw the kid. I swear I didn't. I can't believe I was so damned careless! If you hadn't--"

"Neither did I," Hutch interrupted, trying to counteract the embarrassment and disappointment he could hear in the tight, harsh voice. He saw the flicker of disbelief Starsky threw at him and reached to place a calming hand his partner's arm. "I swear, Starsk. I didn't see him until after I hit the brake."

The midnight blue eyes studied him carefully, looking for any sign of patronization. Hutch held his gaze, letting him see that he had spoken the truth. A minute passed, then his partner relaxed slightly as he accepted Hutch's admission.

"I don't understand. Why did you...?" Starsky asked softly, turning toward him.

"I just...knew." Hutch looked away. "I don't know how. Or why." How do I explain it? Why is this so embarrassing? He knew that there weren't any words to explain what had happened to him. And he knew for a fact that he didn't ever want to talk about the future he had just seen erased. It was better left alone.

A quiet moment passed, and Hutch could feel his partner study him.

"So, you goin' Collandra on me?" Starsky's eyes didn't quite echo the forced amusement in his voice. But it was a good sign.

"Well, actually," Hutch threw back, relieved at his friend's teasing. "I'm just practicing for Huggy's sake. If he's going to blow all his money on scams, I might as well be the one to sell it to him. Think he'll fall for it?"

"Huggy?" Starsky chuckled as he started the car and put it into gear. "He'll buy anything that smells like a buck. You could be a couple hundred richer by the end of the evening, if you play him right. But if you wanna do it correctly, you'll need a partner. I want half."

"Well, then," Hutch drawled lazily, acting relaxed to cover his uneasiness. "Let's go and pick his wallet for once. But you'll get ten percent and like it."

"And just for the record," Starsky replied as he turned the Torino towards their favorite hang-out. "If you get a sudden urge to stomp on the brake when we're in front of a bookie joint, be my guest."

"Dream on, Gordo." With a tired smile Hutch leaned back into his seat, idly rubbing his newly purchased band of silver. Just don't ask me how it happened, Starsk. Just don't ask me how.


Lijah drew back into the shadows, chilled and angry at what he had just seen. "I knew it, Charles. I knew it!" He headed back to the nearest alley, ignoring those strange stares he drew.

{{It's not your concern.}} The dim form replied warningly. {{We have other things to worry about.}}

"I know that!" the elderly man snapped. "But damn it, it's too early for them. They have the potential, but it's not fully developed yet. They're not ready for any of it."

{{Adversity can make people stronger. You know that better than anyone else.}}

"Adversity my ass! This is wrong and you know it!" Lijah sighed tiredly, feeling as if his anger was eating up all his energy. He leaned against the safety of a dirty wall. "It may not be my job, or my concern, but I'm not going to back off if I can help them."

{{You're playing with fire!}} Charles hissed. {{You'll tip the scales. You'll draw their notice.}}

"And if I had been less worried about them finding me in the beginning, I wouldn't be here now," Lijah responded sadly. He drew his torn sweater up closer around his neck as a biting breeze whipped cruelly around his frail form. "If I had been concerned with more than my own responsibilities, then maybe you would still be here!"

{{I am here!}} The dim form drew itself into an almost human form. {{Can you possibly doubt that? After all this time?!}}

"No, I can't," Lijah admitted with a chuckle, then grew serious as he looked into eyes that hadn't existed for ages. He had been lucky. Damn lucky, and it was more than he deserved. But the thought of the others not having even this, it scared him. "But the rules cut both ways. If there is cheating, this could rip them apart. And at such an early stage, they'd never be able to find each other again." He sighed and looked out of his safe area, watching the crowd as it passed by, heart and voice heavy with dread. "Damn it, Charles, forever is a long, long time to be lost."


"Well, if it isn't my favorite not-so-secret agent team, Double-O Eight, come to share an evening meal with the Bear." Huggy smiled dully at the two detectives as they came in the back door. The thin black man was seated at his own dim bar, nursing a drink in the mostly empty establishment. He looked weary and bored.

"I don't get it, Hug," Starsky said, sitting tiredly on the stool beside the bar owner. "You got me on that one."

Huggy looked smug, waving his glass Starsky's way. "Double-O Seven and a half." He waved the drink towards Hutch. "And the other half."

Hutch groaned as he took the seat next to his partner. "You're losing it, Hug. Really grasping for straws there."

"And how do you know we're here to eat?" Starsky wondered. "We could be here for pearls of wisdom."

"Nah," Huggy took a sip of his drink, signaling his bartender to come and serve them. "You two have hung up your crime-fighting capes for the day. You think Huggy can't tell when you're workin' or relaxin'?"

"So we're here to relax," Starsky replied with a slight smile. He nodded toward the bartender. "Jim, get me a beer will ya?" He turned back to Huggy. "But if you do happen to have any answers handy...."

"Always willing to help. What's on your mind today?"

"Life and death, love and hate, good and evil," Hutch answered quietly. "And Jim? A beer for me, too."

The beers were produced and the three of them walked over to their favorite corner booth. Watching his partner, Starsky could see that Hutch wasn't anywhere near relaxed.

He's not the only one who got a shock, Starsky mused as they settled into a comfortable silence. We've both just had the shit scared out of us. His own nerves were still a jumble and even just thinking about what might have happened made his stomach tighten. What he really wanted was a good, stiff drink, but knew better when his nerves were still raw.

It wasn't just the close call that had jolted him. It had happened again. That wave of unseen filth had washed over him just seconds before Hutch had made his move. Just like in the locker room, he realized. It came just like the last time, only the feeling was stronger. Starsky had felt that it emanated from his partner's direction, as if something evil, cold and slimy were sitting between them. His first instinct at Hutch's surprising move had been to pull away from him.

Pull away from Hutch? He marveled at the thought. It was as if when he moved toward me he was pushing that horror in my direction. I know I flinched. If he hadn't hit the brakes-


He started at the two sets of worried eyes he found trained on him. "Sorry, guys," he tried to reply casually, sipping at the beer. "Guess I'm still shook up."

Blue eyes regarded him cautiously, while black ones made the query.

"Almost killed a kid," he answered. "Barely more than a baby."

"But you didn't," Hutch responded quickly, eyes on his own beer.

"But I would have."

"How?" Huggy asked the question quietly, concern on his face.

"Didn't see him run into the street." Starsky tried to shrug, but his shoulders were suddenly too tight, as was his stomach. "He wouldn't've had a chance at the speed I was goin'."

"Damnit, Starsky!" Hutch's voice sounded on the edge of annoyance and anger. "The kid is fine, the mother is fine, I'm fine and you're fine. Can't we just drop it now?"

Starsky found himself staring into angry blue eyes. Why is he upset? I'm the one who made the mistake.

"Sorry I asked," Huggy grumbled, sitting back to eye the two of them. "If everything is so damn fine, why do you two look like you've got the spooks? If you missed the kid, then it was an 'almost' accident, not a real one. You two know they happen all the time. What gives?"

"I didn't miss him. Hutch did." Starsky didn't realize it until the words were out of his mouth that they sounded like an accusation. How did you know about Vernson? How did you know about the kid? What's going on?

Hutch looked away. "Just drop it. Okay?"

"But how?" He leaned toward Hutch, lowering his voice. "How did you know what was going to happen?" Starsky could see that his partner was getting angrier.

"If you two don't mind, I've got to go," Hutch announced suddenly, face flushed and jaw tight. He finished his beer in one swallow, moving his long form out of the booth. "I've got a date tonight and I'm going to be late."

Starsky watched in surprise as Hutch dug a couple of bills out of a pocket, throwing them carelessly on the table. "Where are you goin'?" he demanded. "You didn't say nothin' about havin' a date."

"Yeah? Well maybe that's because you weren't invited." Hutch voice was almost casual, but the bite was there. He turned and shrugged. "I'm catching a cab home, see you guys later."

Starsky watched, dumbfounded, as Hutch made his way out of The Pits. He's hidin' from the questions. I don't like this.

"Well, looks like the man has someplace better to be," Huggy remarked, sounding as surprised as Starsky felt.

"Or he didn't want to answer," Starsky added seriously. He felt his stomach tighten even further and put down the beer, not interested in it anymore. "Something really weird is going on and I'm not sure what it is, Huggy. But it's starting to scare me."

"Oh, yeah? Well, weird is my middle name," Huggy answered confidently. He glanced surreptitiously around the mostly empty bar, his voice lowering to a whisper. "Commence to layin' it on and this bear will see how your problem rates on my personal scale of the strange and abnormal."

It took Starsky more than a few minutes to tell Huggy what had gone on. He felt tongue-tied when it came to describing the feelings of disgust and loathing he had felt in those two separate, brief seconds, but he could tell by the worried look on Huggy's face that he was getting the message.

"You're right, that does sound like some serious bizarreness." Huggy leaned back in the booth, his face grave. "If I was up on my Voodoo and Witchcraft trivia, I could probably send you straight to the right person. But I think you need someone who can diagnose the problem before I'll know who can craft the cure."

"Voodoo? Witchcraft? Aw, Huggy, come on!" Starsk found himself even more uncomfortable than before. "You really don't believe that stuff do you?" He studied the dark face and saw Huggy's conspiratorial nod as he leaned closer.

"Starsky, I have seen things that would turn those curls white with fear." Huggy's voice had gone low and deep, reinforcing the chills already running up and down Starsky's spine. "And I have heard tales that I could never, ever repeat, 'cause to tell you the truth they scared the life out of me the first time, and I ain't gonna go through that again."

Starsky felt himself torn in two different directions at the words. Hutch would call it superstition, call him a moron and an idiot for believing in such nonsense, but Huggy was deadly serious.

Huggy heard it from his family, I've heard it from mine. If there wasn't some truth to all the legends and folk tales that say that evil exists, then why are they everywhere, over hundreds of years? "You think this has somethin' to do with...that?"

Huggy shrugged. "Who knows for sure? But if there's one thing about evil, it surely stinks, and I think you've gotten a pretty good whiff of it. From what you're tellin' me, it's practically sittin' in the Golden Boy's lap."

Starsky shook his head, not wanting to believe any of it. "C'mon, man. You and I both know that Hutch doesn't go in for that kinda thing. Sure, he loves Yoga and meditation, but that's all the 'powers of the human potential' stuff that he eats up. Hutch doesn't believe in the sort of evil that can't be cured by a long prison sentence, a really good shrink, or more fiber in your diet."

Huggy opened his arms in entreaty. "So, you think he's gonna recognize real evil when he sees it? There ain't no better liar in existence than the Evil One himself, my friend. And if Hutch has some demon houndin' his heels, or is being offered a bill of goods for his soul, you think for a minute he's gonna break down and admit to it? To anyone?"

Hell, no, Starsky mused. He's nothing if not proud. And stubborn. "What if this is just a fluke, though? What if I'm over-reacting? I mean, I wouldn't even believe myself," he sighed, "except I feel like I need a shower to wash off the filth."

Huggy took out a pen and grabbed a paper napkin. "Well, there's no reason not to be prepared. And if you really think some real dark cloud is hanging over that fair skull you're partnered with, then you've got see this lady." He slid the napkin over. "No need to call. Just go. Oh, yeah, you've got to bring something of Hutch's with you. Don't forget that."

Starsky looked over the address. It was in the older part of town, where the original middle-class of the city had settled. "Martha Reinwald? Just what does she do?"

Huggy shook his head speaking quietly. "It's not what she does, my friend, it's what she knows. Now, you got your scam artists, like Ezra Bean and Slade who sell the creepin' chills to people who want to play the game. Then you have those like Collandra, who are for real, but don't have any control. But Martha," Huggy reached out to tap the paper Starsky held in his hand, "she knows."

Knows? Knows what? "Thanks, Hug. Maybe I'll talk to her." Folding the thin paper carefully, Starsky put it in his wallet, feeling foolish as he did so. I may come to regret this and Hutch may never let me live it down. But as long as that's the worst that happens, I can live with it.


By the time a cab dropped Hutch off in front of his apartment, he was only a little less annoyed than when he had left The Pits. He was tired, sore and had been in no mood to sit at The Pits and have people pick on him. All he wanted was a good meal, a quiet evening and then early to bed. It was about time he put work and stress behind him.

Why the hell didn't you just stay and eat? he chided himself sourly, digging through his cupboard. Nothing looked good and everything he found would take more work than he felt like putting into it. You should just told them both to go to hell and had some dinner. Hell, you could have stopped and had an even better dinner on the way home. Finally spotting a can of that horrid chili Starsky was so fond of. I might as well, or I'll just wake up hungry later.

While waiting for the chili to warm in the sauce pan, he turned the radio on. There was an interview on, but he couldn't seem to get interested, his mind was drawn back to his partner.

Sometimes he just can't leave well enough alone, he mused, feeling his irritation grow.

Always sticking his nose into things he couldn't possibly understand. I mean, just because he didn't catch on to the fact that that guy was going to pull a gun on Vernson doesn't mean that some of us don't have a cop's intuition.

Hutch stirred the bubbling chili and dished it out, settling down to a bowl full with crackers at the small table.

He thinks that just because he grew up on the street he's got this superior gut instinct when it comes to things going down. He felt a growing pride under the annoyance. Huh, some advantage that turned out to be when this farm-boy could feel it coming. Mr. Streetwise didn't have a clue.

He almost wished now that he had said something at the time, let Starsky know who the real brains of the team was. And then to ask me how? he thought angrily. Well, being a cop is how. It's training and hard work and a sharp eye. If he'd been paying attention to his driving-

Hutch dropped his spoon into the untasted chili, shocked at the direction his thoughts were taking. He knew damn well there was no way Starsky could have seen the kid, knew that there wasn't any way he could have know what was going to happen in the squad room. He couldn't have known. I shouldn't have known. The chili suddenly smelled vile and he felt slightly sick to his stomach.

Forget this, he decided suddenly, pushing away from the table and dumping his dinner into the trash. Time for a long shower, a good book and some sleep. On the way to the shower he stopped at the sight of the phone. The urge to call The Pits seemed to pull him toward it. But as soon as he began to reach for the receiver, his anger flared. Forget him. Take care of yourself for a change. Nobody else will.


Starsky had spent the next few hours picking at a meal and talking shop with Huggy. He waited until Huggy became occupied with the evening's business before leaving. He was a good man and sometimes Starsky felt sorry for the guy, being tied to one place every evening.

Look at who I'm feeling sorry for, he chuckled to himself as he pulled the Torino into evening traffic. The Bear has probably spent all his life flowing from one place to another. He may not have told us his life history, but I bet it was plenty rough. Him settling into something steady and legal may get a bit boring from time to time, but it's good for him. And you can do worse than tending bar. Maybe Hutch and I could open a cop's bar after we retire.

Starsky's dinner threatened to turn into a rock at the thought of his partner. There had been plenty of times in the past when he knew that something was off with Hutch. Some problems were physical, like when his back hurt and he didn't want anyone to know. Some were mental, like when he was worrying a case. Some were emotional, like when Abby left with her brother, or Gillian got killed. Some were a little mixture of everything, like when he had gotten hooked. In all of those times, Starsky had only to test the waters to know what it was his friend needed. He had always been able to tell whether to back off for awhile and let the situation heal, or to step right in and take charge. But for some reason he felt uncomfortable and uncertain with this situation.

My head is telling me it's no big deal. So he had a few lucky guesses, saw some clue he couldn't remember later. Hutch is a great cop, with sharp eyes and ears.

But he couldn't help but feel that whatever was going on with his partner had nothing to do with how good a cop Hutch was. My gut is telling me to grab him and run for the hills. He sighed, driving aimlessly in the evening traffic and stopping for a red light. So what do I do? Pretend like everything is as fine as it looks, or go with my gut and make a fool of myself?

Then, as if he had been tapped on the shoulder, he found himself turning to look into the back seat of the Torino. There was Hutch's Letterman's jacket, left there during the week and forgotten. Before the light could change, Starsky reached back and grabbed it, throwing it on the passenger seat as the light turned green. It was strange, he felt better with it there, as if his partner were still in it.

Well, Huggy said to take something of Hutch's with me when I went, he thought. Although he really hasn't worn it much recently, he's had it forever, so that ought to count. He smiled, stomach relaxing at a decision finally made. I guess this won't be the last time I'll make a fool out of myself for him. What else are friends for?


Lijah sat on the busy curb, watching the cars as they passed on by. He knew he should be up and around soon, needing to make it to his home territory before it got too dark to be safe. He was quite a ways from his own comforts, but it had been worth a trip. If he had felt as good outside as he did inside, he could have run the entire way home. He grinned happily to himself.

{{You did that well,}} Charles admitted grudgingly, his form hiding behind the darkened wheel of a parked car. {{But then again, you didn't have to nudge him much. I think he would have gone, eventually.}}

"But then 'eventually' might have been too late."

{{Don't get your hopes up, Lijah,}} Charles sighed sadly. {{When push comes to shove, it's all up to them.}}

"I know." Lijah shifted and moved, pulling his stooped form upright to begin the long trek home. He ignored the stares and the wide berth that the other pedestrians provided him. "But it's my hope, spend it as I will."


It was a cool twilight and the bright lights from the small, elderly houses shone warmly out onto the street. This time of evening always used to make Starsky want to head on home to his own little part of the world and settle down for the night. After years of night shifts and stake-outs the urge go home for the evening grew thin. But tonight, as he looked for one specific address, the light made him feel lonely.

He found the house near the end of the street. All the lights were on and Starsky felt as if he might be intruding on a party or a family gathering. Well, Hug said I didn't have to call, so this is as good a time as any.

He parked and gathered up his friend's black and white jacket, taking it with him to the door. He had made a decision and it wouldn't help anyone to back off of it now.

He could hear voices from the front room as he approached. His knock was answered by a large man, who seemed to be in the middle of a conversation with someone behind him.

"Oh, there you are, come on in." The man was taller than Starsky, with thin, sandy hair and thick glasses. He was startled to see the man step back to let him in, as unconcerned as if he was visited by leather-jacketed strangers at every hour of the night. "Come in. Come in and Martha will be down in a moment. We'll just sit you in the library if you don't mind, it's where she works."

Starsky felt his eyebrows climb to his hairline in surprise as the man turned his back completely on him and started down a long hall. Feeling totally out of place, he stepped into the hallway. He noticed a woman in the front room seated on a large couch and watching TV as she knit. She only nodded politely at him and returned her attention back to the TV, missing Starsky's return of the slight pleasantry.

This is really weird, he thought as he made his way down the narrow hall. These people almost act as if they know me. Didn't even ask me my name! He found the open door with the large man waiting for him inside.

"You can wait for her here, since this is pretty much her office. By the way, my name's Donald." Donald held out a large hand.

"Mine's Starsky," he responded, shifting the jacket to his other arm to take the friendly grip. "Pleased to meet you. How did you know I-?"

"Oh, Martha warned us she'd have company tonight," Donald replied with a smile and a shrug. "She's had company at the odd hour, day or night, for as long as my wife can remember. Martha is my mother-in-law. I've learned long ago that when Martha says someone is coming, or something is going to happen there's no use worrying about it. Just get prepared for it." He waved toward a large chair sitting at the side of an antique, roll-top desk. "Just have a seat."

"Oh," Starsky felt a bit embarrassed as he sat in the overly-plush chair. "I didn't mean to bother anyone."

"No bother," Donald replied with a careless shrug as he headed out the door, "Martha said you'd be here. But, you know, I never would have pegged you for a detective." He left, shaking his head in amusement.

No foolin'? Starsky felt a bit overwhelmed. He surveyed the small room, packed with bookshelves and filled with books. There were even piles of them on the floor and in the corners. I try my best not to look like a cop, so I guess I'm successful. Except for now. When Huggy said she 'knew', he really meant business. I wonder how far this 'knowing' goes?

"Hello, there," a voice called cheerfully to him from the doorway. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting, but I had to take an important call and I knew you could wait." The speaker was a thin, dark-haired woman in her early seventies, wrinkled of feature but straight and healthy of body. She smiled warmly at Starsky as he stood and she went straight for her chair at the antique desk. "So, Detective...?"

"Starsky, ma'am. Dave Starsky," he answered quickly, making note that apparently she hadn't known his name. "Huggy sent me, he said you could help."

Martha nodded as she settled comfortably in her chair, allowing him to do the same. "I'll try as best I can, Detective. I can help, but I don't always have the answers people need."

"Just...ma'am...uh, what is it that you do?"

Martha smiled and reached out to pat his arm kindly. "I'm blessed, I guess you could say. Ever since I was young I just seemed to 'know' things. It's not like premonition, where I can see the future, or some sort of flashback where I can see the past, I just 'know' things that are in the here and now. But I have no control over it and it's nothing spectacular, so I hope you won't be disappointed."

"Did you...?"

"Know you would be here?" She chuckled a bit. "Yes, I knew you would be here, at what time and that you were a detective."

Starsky noted the fact that she stated it as a fact and yet had not bothered to ask him if it were true. "But you didn't know my name?"

She nodded. "Nor what you looked like. But here you are. It's a roll of the dice, Detective Starsky. But let's give it a go and see what we can do for you."

She held out her hand expectantly and Starsky handed the large jacket over to the lady, noting that the woman would have practically disappeared in it if she had tried to wear it. She took it and studied it seriously, weighing it in her hands.

"It belongs to your closest friend," she said, eyes closed in thought. Holding it in her arms, she seemed to hug it, deep in concentration. "You two are very, very close. You work with him. You're worried that he is in danger and you are right." She frowned, her voice serious. "You have both drawn notice and are to be tested."

"Tested?" Starsky watched the woman closely.

"No, not just tested, but...seduced."

Starsky suddenly found brown eyes studying him, while the woman's whole countenance spoke of dismay.

"What do you mean?" he asked quietly, knowing it couldn't be good news.

Martha suddenly sighed, shaking her head and handing my back the jacket. "I'm not sure, Detective. There are layers within layers here that I can't see through." She was quiet for a moment, watching his reaction. "Do you believe in Evil?"

"Me?" Starsky suddenly felt uncomfortable, as if asked to reveal something deeply private. He sat silently for a moment. What do I say? What do I believe? He knew what he really wanted to say, what he really wanted to believe. But what the lady wanted was the truth. "Yes. I guess I do."

The older woman nodded in agreement. "Good, because most don't anymore. And people can't fight what they don't believe in. Your friend doesn't believe in Evil in this form. I think that is why he is being seduced."

"Seduced...." Starsky felt a chill at the thought. Hutch didn't believe in the old fashioned way evil was described. Could he be more susceptible? "How?"

"Power, knowledge, visions," she answered softly. "Why do men chose Evil over Good, Detective? Every man has a price, some have one that can be never met, by either side. But have no doubt that they can find a man's weaknesses."

"Who?" Starsky found himself almost growling, watching Martha closely. "Who is doing this and how do I stop them?"

"I don't know who and I don't know how." She shook her head sadly. "There is more to life than what we can see, Detective. More than I can see. All I can tell you is that while he seems to be the target, you too are involved. Don't let yourself be forced out. You have a say in this." She stood carefully, tiredly, looking years older than when she had arrived. "There is no more I can tell you now, but maybe later? That I don't know," she smiled weakly. "Yet."

Taking his leave and thanking her quickly, Starsky found his mind full and empty at the same time. He didn't know how long he had been sitting in the driver's seat of the Torino with the jacket in his hands before he took a deep breath and came back to himself.

So I was right, he thought grimly. It was Evil that I felt. Whatever good there was in the world would not have had to seduce his partner, it already had his and Starsky's allegiance. So what do I do now? If I have a say, how do I say it? And will he listen?


Hutch jolted awake, startled and fuzzy. He looked around quickly for the source of the sound that had awakened him and saw his book lying in an untidy pile on the floor. He sighed, picked it up and put it aside on the end table. Well, if I can't make it two pages without dozing off, then I might as well go to bed.

He had taken a long, hot shower and finally made some toast and tea. Even that had been more than he felt he needed. Now, sitting on the couch in his robe, with music on the radio, he had hoped to actually finish the book he had started weeks ago. He never seemed to have time to read anymore and he missed it. But it looked as if tonight would not be the night for that.

He put his dishes in the sink and made sure the apartment was locked up. As he walked into the bedroom his eye was caught by the broad silver band that he had bought. Realizing that he had never really taken the time to examine it he picked it up and walked over to sit on the bed, holding the bracelet under the lamp.

Once again he was impressed with the workmanship. It was warm and solid in his hands. Every bit of space on the surface had been etched with designs. The complexity of the work was amazing. There seemed to be multiple scenes, one blending into another so well that Hutch was unable to tell where one ended and the other began. They all seemed to be places and locations, no sign of animals or people, but with an unreadable script flowing here and there through the work.

Deciding he needed his magnifying glass, he made the trip to his desk, then returned to sit back against the headboard, bringing his knees up to brace his hold on the object. He wanted to pick out the different scenes, discover the hidden story behind the designs.

Starting from the left end of the bracelet, wondering if that was the correct direction, Hutch almost gasped at the detail that seemed to jump out at him. Under the glass there seemed to be some sort of grounds area, minutely displayed. It was a park, thick with vegetation, yet somehow with the wilted look of fall. It looked cold and empty, but bright with sunlight.

Almost as if you could step into it, he thought, feeling wonderfully happy with his new possession. A yawn interrupted him and he closed his eyes to rest them for a moment. There's not many artists who can do that kind of work. This may be some important piece from someone's collection. I may have stumbled onto a real find here. He yawned again, rubbing at tired eyes.

I'll have to check and see...if I can find the artists markings...or initials...or....


The sun is up, he thought dully. He knew that was wrong, but found he didn't care. Kind of nice, not to care. It's too tiring when you do.

Without conscious action, he shifted and seemed to float through a beautiful, open park that showed only a few signs of fall. He watched his passage casually, noting points of interest; an old ceramic fountain here, the remains of a flower garden there. It was obviously a well-cared for area, tended with love.

This is a good place, I like it here.

He continued to float toward a clump of trees. They seemed peaceful, like some strange kind of oasis in the middle of the grassy parkland. In the center of the trees he could see a bright white gazebo, just large enough for a few couples to sit in semi-privacy. The closer he got, the more he realized that there was something on one of the benches that shouldn't have been there.

Why do people spoil good things?

As his point of view moved closer to the gazebo, he could see the object turn into a haphazard pile from which spread a pool of rusty liquid, occasionally flecked with crimson. It had run its course, having dripped down from the wooden bench and onto the speckled, leaf littered floor. He recognized the pile for what it was and suddenly he desperately, frantically, needed to leave.

I don't want it! I don't want to look! It's too much!

His struggle not to see, not to know, was in vain. He floated closer and closer. It had been a human once, but had been dissected, divided and piled haphazardly into a bleeding jumble of flesh. He had seen the waxy flesh of death too many time to not recognize it, had seen the human form broken and mangled in too many ways not to see it as it used to be. As his sight moved over the remains, the slim, delicate hands of a female, looking as young and as delicate as a china doll's, seemed to beckon to his heart.

Stop it! Stop it! Make them stop this!!

{{This should be stopped,}} a voice purred sensuously. Where it came from he could not tell, but he felt a vast relief to know he wasn't alone.


{{If anyone can stop it, you can.}} The voice circled like a cat around his mind.

Yes, he replied quickly. I can do that. I try to-

{{But you haven't done anything, have you?}} The purr now an accusing growl.

We've... his mind shied away from the plural. I've tried, but I can't find-

{{The other children are already chosen. Their fates rest with you.}}

But... but I don't know what to do, where to go! I'm trying!

{{No!}} The voice was scathing in its accusation. {{You don't try hard enough! You don't care enough!}}

Not true!! I do care! I'm trying, I-

{{ How many more of them will be tortured and murdered because of your incompetence, Detective?!}}


"None of them! None!!" Hutch gasped, shaking as he heard his cries echo in the dim apartment. His eyes darted around the space frantically, drinking in the familiar surroundings of bed and home. He continued to shake slightly, his stomach cramped and he could feel his heart beating a pounding marathon within his chest.

Damn! he thought shakily. That's the worst one in a long time. He took a steadying breath, trying to catch fragments of the dream as it slipped away, leaving little behind but the horror. He remembered bits and pieces of it, the park, the gazebo, the delicate hand placed alongside the mutilated body. He sighed, about to rub at his tired face when he realized he still held the silver bracelet in his hand, knuckles white from the grip.

He padded to the kitchen for a drink of water, setting the bracelet aside. Bone tired now as the adrenaline began to wear off, he could feel his heartbeat return to normal. He sipped at the liquid, willing himself to relax.

I've got to get a grip, he decided. Many more like that and they'll have me committed. He found his eyes drawn to the phone, wondering if Starsky were up. Maybe I should call him, just to talk it out. Picking up the bracelet on the way back, he settled once again on the bed. He reached for the phone on the nightstand but stopped before he touched it. This is stupid. He'll just think you're a jerk. Aren't you mature enough to handle a bad dream? What do you want him to do, come and hold your hand?

The annoyance he had carried with him from The Pits seemed to creep back, as if it had only festered during its absence. He rubbed unconsciously at the metal in his hand.

Maybe if I didn't have to worry about my 'partner' all the time I could actually get something done. This case is going to take brains, not brawn. Apparently the detectives who were assigned to it are a bit lacking. He didn't know why he and Starsky hadn't been assigned the case by now. They had the better arrest record, the better conviction rate. Hadn't they handled such cases before and won? Children were still being murdered, who cared about protocol at a time like this?

Damn them all anyway! I can do it by myself if I have to. In fact, it would probably be easier that way.

Anger replacing the horror of a nightmare now forgotten, Hutch set the jewelry on the end table, switching off the light as he settled back under the covers.

Better get some real sleep. He started to feel very relaxed, now that he felt a decision had been made. Too many people depend on you, Hutchinson. Too much time has been wasted already.

His mind slipped deeper into slumber, as if it were led into it, leaving him in quiet, soul-numbing darkness.


For Starsky, the next day turned out to be the first real day of fall. While the sky was clear, there was now a definite chill to the air. The comfortable weather had been replaced by nippy winds and breezes. He would miss the golden summer days, but not the excessive heat.

Start of the holiday season. He smiled to himself. Something to look forward to in every change of the weather.

Unfortunately, the cooler temperature didn't seem to do anything for his partner. Hutch had been quiet and withdrawn all morning, barely saying anything more than he had to, making Starsky wonder if he was still upset about yesterday's questioning.

They had made their accustomed rounds, had hit their usual places, keeping to the regular visits. Staying visible was important, it kept the small time hoods under control. What was strange about this trip wasn't the questions Hutch asked concerning the Shredder case, as they'd been doing that for weeks now, but that Hutch no longer wanted to talk about it among themselves. The day was almost over and Starsky felt as if he had been riding with a stranger.

He had spent most of the night thinking about what Martha had told him. All she had been able to do was to confirm his own suspicions. What was he supposed to do now? Did he push his partner to talk? About what?

Say, Hutch, been having any dalliances with the Devil lately? Taken to dancing naked in the moonlight covered in blood? Yeah, sure. Starsky shook his head at the thought, watching Hutch out of the corner of his eye. It would sound hilarious if it weren't so serious. Martha said that I'm part of this too, not to let myself be forced out. But I don't know where to push, or where to hang on.

When they entered the squad room, Starsky knew something had happened while they were gone. There was more activity, more well-dressed strangers in the squad room than usual. His best guess was that another body had been found, and this time it was in their precinct.

"Hey guys," Vernson waved them over to a corner. He looked angry.

"What's up?" Hutch asked tensely.

"Dobey wants everyone unofficially brought up to speed on this, but also wants it kept out of the grapevine."

"Another body," Starsky guessed grimly.

"Yeah, another one." Vernson sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It was just found by an elderly man out walking his dog. It's in our district."

"So, I guess Metro is in on it now?" Starsky asked, not sure what he wanted the answer to be.

"Our lab's out there now. The Chiefs have decided the best course of action is to let the main team from Quincy cover this one, as they've done with the other cases. They'll use our facilities because ours are closer to the scene. They'll pull us local guys in to handle basic interviews and footwork if we're needed. Otherwise we just stay out of their way and let them use our desks and phones."

"Guess that makes sense," Starsky replied with a shrug. "They're the ones who know what to look for, are keeping track of what's been going on."

"Damn waste of time," Hutch muttered, turning an angry glare toward the new men talking near Dobey's office. "Those idiots don't know what they're doing."

"Isn't that a little harsh?" Vernson asked, surprise on his face.

"Oh, please! Fat lot of good they've done so far." Hutch hissed, face angry and eyes flashing. "If those idiots at Quincy haven't gotten off their asses to get this case solved by this time, then who can expect them to get anything done?"

Starsky was afraid that this was going to get out of hand. "C'mon, Hutch," he said quietly. "Let's just-"

"No!" Hutch held up a finger in warning, his voice growing harsher, louder. "The answer is out there, Starsky. We both know it is. Kids out there are depending on us, all of us, to stop this freak! And I, for one, and not going to sit on my ass and let it happen." Hutch turned then and stormed out, oblivious to the stares his loud words had drawn.

Starsky tried not to wince at some of the astonished looks that followed Hutch's retreating form. He could only hope that few had heard the entire tirade.

"What the hell is his problem?" Vernson asked in annoyance. "Does he think he's the only one who's bustin' his butt on this?"

"Don't pay him no mind, Abe." Starsky kept his voice quiet, giving the detective an apologetic shrug. "He's just frustrated, that's all. He's been snappin' at everyone lately. What's the low down on the case?"

Vernson shook his head and went with the change of subject. "The body was found in the Addison Estate area. It was discovered in a small, local park just over forty-five minutes ago. They think it was a young female, but I'm not sure Forensics has had enough time to make that official. The ball is just getting rolling."

"Any girls reported missing? Runaways?"

"Are you kidding?" Vernson snorted, waving to a large file on his desk. "You know the size of the runaway list in this area alone. We're just beginning to pull the local reports from Missing Persons. Until we can get a description of what the victim looked like, it won't do much good. There's no guarantee that her parents would even know she's missing yet."

"Are Hutch 'n I supposed to be doin' anything in particular? We haven't caught up with Dobey yet."

"Haven't heard." Vernson shrugged. "The Captain is in a phone meeting upstairs in the Chief's office with another Captain from Quincy Square. They're working out the administrative details. I'm sure if Dobey wants you, he'll find you."

"Yeah, I bet. Thanks for the low down. I'd better go track Hutch down and save whatever poor soul he's latched on to. See ya'."

He knew Hutch would find some quiet place to fume. The only real privacy they could find would have been in Dobey's office or the Torino. Starsky was betting on the Torino.

As he approached his car, Starsky could see him. He was sitting on the passenger side, and since Starsky's side was unlocked he was willing to take that as a favorable sign.

Hutch didn't look at him when he opened the door, or when he settled himself behind the steering wheel.

"So," Starsky said calmly. "Has His Highness decided to come down from the throne and grace the rest of us with his imperial wisdom?"

Hutch snorted in disgust. "Starsky, you know there hasn't been any progress made on this case."

"That we're aware of. Sure, we work on it when we can, do what we can do. But that doesn't mean that those guys at Quincy are sitting on their asses, shootin' spit-balls and makin' paper air planes to fill their time."

"Couldn't prove it by the body count."

Starsky bit his tongue. It wasn't like Hutch to badmouth other cops. Not that they both hadn't seen their share of bad ones, but Hutch had never been afraid of saying what he needed to say straight to their faces. Starsky didn't know what it was about the case that Hutch felt was being mishandled, but accusations of incompetence could start some ugly feelings between the Metro detectives and the special team from Quincy Square.

"You're out of line here, Hutch. Can you do better? Have you done any better?" he asked calmly, evenly.

The glare he got in return was full of anger, frustration and embarrassment. Starsky held the gaze until Hutch backed off by turning to look out the passenger window.

"Well? What's the background on this one?" Hutch asked tightly, clearly in no mood to admit he was wrong.

"It's too early to know if it's the same M.O., but it sounded the same to me. Can't confirm that the victim was female yet as they just found the body. It was found up in Addison Estates, in a little park."

"Park?!" Hutch gasped the word. Turning toward Starsky, his face suddenly lost all color. "They found her in a park?"

Starsky felt stunned at Hutch's reaction. He looked as if he had seen a ghost. "Yeah. Why?"

Hutch looked around wildly for a second, left hand rubbing against right wrist, as if he had injured it. He took a large breathe then and seemed to calm down. "Take me there."

Starsky heard it as a plea, not an order. "I don't know if I should," he replied cautiously. "You need to let this go. We can work on it behind the scenes, sure, but we can't afford to butt in."

"Well, damn it, make up your mind. I can catch a cab just as easily I can sit in your car."

Starsky studied the angry face, knowing what the clenched jaw meant. He reached for the mike and flicked the toggle. "Zebra Three to control," he called, starting the Torino's engine.

"Zebra Three, control here."

"Log us back on the streets, Mildred. And patch me through to Detective Vernson. He's at his desk. I need a specific address."


Lijah walked tiredly down the street. There were things he needed to check up on, things that perhaps had gone too long unchallenged. He didn't have to turn his head, he didn't even have to hear the familiar engine to know the red and white car was driving by him. He watched it as it passed him and continued down the street. He almost stumbled with his inattention to his own progress.

{{Careful,}} a kind voice admonished him. {{You always let them distract you too much.}}

"The young are our responsibility," Lijah replied. He eyed a large dumpster, wondering if it would be worth a stop. He needed more layers. "We need to keep an eye on them."

{{All of the young, yes, but you place too much hope in those two.}}

"You know what I admire about you, Charles?" Lijah asked, half amused and half tired of this nagging.

{{What?}} came the suspicious question.

"Even without a mouth, you manage to talk too much."


Hutch felt frozen in his seat.

Found in a park. I knew she was going to be there, I can remember it now. Hutch could still see the images in his mind from the night before. He knew what he would see when they arrived at the murder scene, could feel the certainty of it settle in his gut.

Was she alive as I dreamt of her body? Did she call for help that never arrived? He took a breath, feeling the chill that matched the one crawling up his spine. Could I have done something to saved her?

Starsky had been quiet the whole trip. Hutch knew he was unhappy about going to the scene, possibly interrupting an ongoing investigation. But he had to know. This was too important.

The park was crowded. Quite a number of police units were parked along the open, grassy area. There were also several TV-station vans and gathering crowds of people just outside the yellow police tape. Starsky drove past a uniformed officer with his badge displayed and was allowed to pull up next to the Forensic van. They both got out, and after showing their ID once began walking toward the crowd at the center of the park.

Hutch felt sick and slow as he made his way toward the tree cluster and the flicker of white nestled inside. It was all there: the sun shining down on the fall shrubbery, the large grassy area surrounding the small group of trees, the ceramic fountain, the remains of a well-tended flower garden, all exactly where they should be.

He hadn't realized he was frozen in place, staring at the gazebo in the distance, until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He knew Starsky was saying something, had given him a little shake, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the crowded gazebo. The victim was there.

He had failed her.

The world spun crazily as firm hands turned him around and forced him in another direction. He realized he was being steered away from the scene, but didn't have the will to fight it. He had found what he needed to know, about her and about himself. Incompetent. Inept. Inadequate.

As soon as they reached the Torino Hutch leaned against it, feeling as if it were the only stable place left on earth. When the passenger door was opened he fled into the familiar space. He knew Starsky was talking to him as the car moved, but he could hear nothing through the scene replaying itself in his head.

She has such tiny hands, he thought, shivering. He rubbed at the warm band on his wrist; the only warmth in his body. It's so strange, seeing such womanly, painted nails on such a child-like fingers. Were they the only part of her the killer hadn't destroyed?


Starsky talked while he drove, knowing that Hutch wasn't listening to him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Hutch wasn't taking anything in: he was trapped within his own thoughts.

He went so pale, as if it were someone he knew, Starsky mused. Whatever hit him at the park, it hit him hard. He knew the best place for Hutch right now was the beach. Starsky had never been sure what his partner found in the open sand and shore that helped him to center himself, but he was not going to argue with what worked. This time he's going to talk about it, tell me what's going on. Even if he doesn't understand it himself.

It took a while to get through the traffic, but Starsky finally pulled the Torino into a public parking lot at the edge of the shore. With the cooler weather, the beach was fairly empty this time of day. He was not surprised when his passenger bolted from the car as if his life depended on being here. Starsky only sat and watched as Hutch strode purposefully to the top of the nearest dune and disappeared down the other side.

I'll give him minute or two. But the rest of the time is mine.


Although the beach was by no means deserted, its visitors were few and far between. Most of the seaside businesses were still open, the restaurants and the cafes would not close until well into the winter season, if they closed at all.

Randolph Thomas, owner of the Prior Mystique, sat at a small table in front of one of the nicer cafes, sipping carefully at his drink. He now wished he had ordered something stronger.

His assistant, Jeffery Trent, sat across from him, dressed expensively in black turtle neck, leather jacket and pressed, gray slacks. He looked to be about twenty-four years old, was long-legged, blue-eyed and blond almost to white.

Trent's resemblance to the troubled detective on the beach was a continued source of amusement to Thomas. As it was, Trent could be a younger brother; age him ten years or so, and they could be twins.

If you can't take your frustrations out on their source, then a substitute can almost be as satisfying. Thomas turned his eyes from the beach to the man across from him. As long as he doesn't realize why I'm doing this.

The Torino had arrived and Hutchinson had already taken his leave of it. The two men at the small table had observed the unfolding scene. Thomas now watched the detective in the car. He was pleased to see that the partners had separated on arrival. The rift was going well.

"You know, Thomas," Trent began, an uncertain frown taking over the fair features. "I'm sure Hutchinson is an interesting challenge for you, but are we really going to get more from him than we're giving up?"

"Yes, Mr. Trent, I'm sure we will." Thomas watched the other man closely, looking for the warning signs he had grown to fear. The store proprietor had walked the tight-rope of his master's whims for far too many years to discount what lay beneath the angel-like exterior. "They are a very effective team, Sir," he continued. "They have potential and I suspect have already drawn the attention of the other side."

The handsome, blond features stayed uncertain. "You may be right. This team is strong and growing. It would be to our advantage to nip this in the bud. But Hutchinson...." Jeff Trent shrugged. "Yes, he has weaknesses, as does the other. Those can be exploited. But that one in particular would be a quick burn-out if we were to win him over. Probably suicide within a year, or he'd keep himself so drugged or dunk that he'd cease to be of any use. Why bother?" Cold, ocean-blue eyes focused sharply on Thomas.

"Killing two birds with one stone." Thomas didn't like it when the Master was making him explain every little detail. It meant he had better be sure he was right. "We've lost control of the Shredder. He was a bit crazed to begin with, but his hunger for blood is now running rampant. He'll be caught soon unless we intervene. Why not use the case as bait, while winning Detective Hutchinson over to our side? We can exploit his weak points, gain his allegiance, cut our ties to the Shredder and break up the team at the same time."

The young man smiled the smile of an angel as he contemplated the scenario for one long moment. Then the smile turned smugly evil. "Yes, I see. Well then, cut the Shredder loose," he ordered. "But make sure the split between the two is complete, as I don't care for loose ends. Push until he gives."

Thomas smiled at the command. He did enjoy pushing.

"By the way," Trent began casually. "Doesn't it strike you as strange as to how much he and I would look alike if I allowed myself to age a few years? It does bring up such strange possibilities, don't you think?" The icy eyes bored into Thomas. "Don't enjoy this too much. It could make you careless. I have a short temper these days." The younger man stood and strode quickly down the sidewalk, away from the small table.

Randolph Thomas shivered, watching the departing form. He was relieved that he had passed inspection once again. He had been very, very, lucky. The Master was notoriously fickle these days.


Hutch sat on the cool sand, arms wrapped around knees, trying to find some warmth within himself. The leather jacket, still a bit heavy for the cool air, was closed and pulled tightly around him, yet he felt naked to the elements.

The clues are there, have been all along, he told himself over and over, almost chanting the accusations to himself. I've been blind. I could have saved her, if only I wasn't so incompetent.

He heard his partner's arrival, saw him in his peripheral vision as Starsky settled beside him. Instead of helping, the action made Hutch angry.

Intruding, he thought in annoyance. Butting in on my space. Can't he ever leave me be? How can I think with him around?

"What's going on?"

"Nothing," Hutch heard himself snap in reply, keeping his eye on the surf. Nothing that's your concern.

"Bullshit! Don't pull that crap on me, Hutch, 'cause you know it ain't gonna work. Not with me. Whatever's goin' on with you is too weird to play games with."

"Games!" Hutch stood suddenly, turning to face Starsky, who had also come to his feet. "This is all just a game to you, isn't it? Well, this isn't a game to me, buddy and I'm tired of being on the losing end. That girl back there is dead and everyone is just walking around like normal, pretending we're playing a game of hide and seek with a killer." He felt the heat of anger spread into his cheeks and his gut. It felt good. "Excuse me for taking this a little more seriously than the rest of you."

Finding himself toe to toe with his partner, Hutch watched as Starsky's emotions changed from astonishment to anger. The dark-blue eyes now bored into his own and Hutch felt a sort of evil glee at the reaction.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Starsky breathed tightly, eyes flashing. "You think you're the only one who cares? You think you're the only one out of thousands of police and hundreds of thousand of people that wants this stopped? Who the hell do you think has been running around with you, on-duty, off-duty, late for duty, trying to solve this case?! Mighty Mouse?!"

Hutch snickered evilly at the comparison. "Well, he, at least, had more education, from what I can tell!" Hutch threw the words like a barb, watching the familiar face to make sure they hit home. Starsky's angry flush grew even deeper and his eyes burned in a way that Hutch had rarely seen aimed his way.

"Oh, really?" Starsky hissed. "Well, my education may all be from the streets and the military, but you'll notice that I passed those with flying colors, Mr. College Classes. And speaking of education, just how many times did you change your major, pal? And just how many degrees, doctorates or PH.D's did you come outta there with? At least I knew what the hell I was doing!"

Hutch felt the words hit him like a punch on an old bruise. Turning quickly, he strode angrily toward the water line, knowing that if he had heard one more word out of that man's mouth he'd close it with a fist. He stood at the water's edge, looking at the endless horizon without really seeing it.

Damn him! He knows I what kind of shit I've taken from my family about that. My parents, Vanessa, everyone pushing and shoving me into a life I couldn't fit in to. And to think I became the family disappointment just to be a cop!

It was then that he felt the hand on his shoulder and the familiar presence at his back.

"Leave me alone," he demanded, shrugging off the touch.

"How can I do that?" Starsky's hand returned to his shoulder, as if he knew that it could stay there this time. Hutch turned to look at him, seeing an offer of 'forgive and forget' on Starsky's face.

Hutch took in a lungfull of the salty air: he could feel his anger diminishing. What the hell am I doing here? Can't do a damn thing right anymore, can I? "Sorry," he offered tiredly, knowing it was accepted even before it was spoken. He looked back at Starsky, tried to give him an apologetic smile. "Guess we both know where all the sore spots are, don't we?"

"Why are we arguing?" Starsky shook his head. "You're just snappin' at me to avoid the questions, you know. What was it you saw, or thought you were going to see, at the park? Why did we have to go there? And why pick a fight to keep from telling me?"

Hutch was silent for a minute, trying to figure out what the answer was. He's going to think I'm crazy, he thought sadly. I had a chance to save her, and didn't. He took a big breath before starting. "I saw her there, Starsk," he said quietly, feeling the shame replacing the angry heat in his face, one for the other. "I was given a warning and I dropped the ball."

He saw the shock and sympathy in Starsky's eyes. Hutch turned back to the ocean view, not wanting to see the accusation that would be there too.

"Like...like the time in the squad room? Like the time with the kid?" Starsky asked quietly, squeezing Hutch's shoulder firmly.

"Yeah. Like then." Hutch closed his eyes, wishing he didn't have to think about all this. "I saw her there, in the park, as I was falling asleep. But it was daytime and she was already dead and butchered. I didn't do anything about it, Starsk. Didn't try to find her. Didn't even try to find the park and catch a glimpse of the killer leaving her there. And I'll bet you anything you want that she was alive when I knew what was going to happen. I just let her die."

"No!" Starsky shook him gently and moved to stand in front of him, catching his eyes. "You had nothing to do with her death. What you saw was unpleasant, but I don't see how you could have stopped a murder from a dream. How many horrible dreams have we had in our lives, huh? How're you to know the difference?"

"Damnit, Starsky, I saw her. Like I saw the park, the flowers and the fountain! They were real to me. It was more real than any other nightmare I can ever remember having."

"Okay, okay," Starsky soothed, "I believe you. I do. But that doesn't mean you could have done a thing about it. I didn't hear you say anything about you knowin' who she was, or who the killer is. What were you supposed to do?"

Hutch turned back toward the ocean. They stood there quietly for a few minutes, watching the surf. He assumed Starsky was watching him, that hand still on his shoulder as if he were afraid Hutch would just float away without it.

He doesn't understand. He wasn't there, didn't have the chance to take control and see what was important. He didn't screw it up.

"Let's go to the station," Starsky suggested, glancing around the mostly deserted beach. "It's gonna get colder and we just walked out on a ton of paperwork. Let's go do our jobs and save Dobey the trouble of chewin' our asses off. He doesn't need the calories." Starsky smiled slightly and his hand squeezed Hutch's shoulder tightly before letting go. "Come on."

"Yeah. Sure," he conceded. But nothing has changed, has it? If it happens again, I'm going to do it right the next time. I'm not going to drop the ball and let another one die.

They turned and walked back to the Torino together, but with every step Hutch could feel the frustration returning. By the time they turned out of the parking lot, he felt as distant from the man beside him as if he were getting a ride from a complete stranger.

Maybe it's time to cut him lose, he thought to himself. Work on your own, Hutchinson. You can probably do better without him. Probably always could.


Thomas watched the pair closely as they walked back to the Torino. He drained the last of his drink, feeling tired and confused. He was not sure what had happened. Somehow he had lost control for awhile. After he managed to nudge Hutchinson into anger, the blond had seemed to slip away and Thomas had found himself losing ground.

The other one interfered, he thought with disgust. He cut in somehow and blocked me. Just when I had a good snit going.

It should have been easy, to push at a stray thought here, encourage a growing anger there, nourish a budding frustration as a base from which to work. But it had been harder than before. He watched Hutchinson's body language and knew that he still had something to build on. At least he didn't have to start all over again.

I'm getting too old, Thomas thought with a chill of his own. Better watch it. I can't afford to screw this up.

He focused in on Hutchinson and pushed harder.


Starsky sighed and stretched in his chair, eyeing the top of his desk tiredly. He and Hutch had made it back to Metro and had been pretty much left to finish their paperwork uninterrupted. Getting this back-log done and behind them had been satisfying. Now, if he could just get past this thing with Hutch, he would feel as if something had really been accomplished.

This afternoon, ever since they had come back from the beach, it almost felt as if Hutch was a different person. They hadn't talked much on the way back, and when Starsky tried to get his partner to comment on some of their paper work, he barely said two words. It wasn't as if Hutch was angry or upset with him, but almost as if Starsky was a stranger who just happened to be using the desk across from him.

Maybe I'm just imagining things. Hutch isn't the only one who isn't in the mood to be sociable. This latest death broke the pattern set for the Shredder and everyone in the squad room seemed tense and frustrated. A guy could get his head bitten off just for answering his own phone around here. But it felt strange to see Hutch sitting across from him and looking at him like he didn't even know his name. I think I'd rather he was biting my head off.

Starsky's thoughts were interrupted as Abe Vernson emerged from Dobey's office, along with several others that Starsky didn't recognize. He knew there had been a meeting going on, but was surprised to see that Vernson had been included. An unhappy-looking Dobey left with the others, while Vernson walked glumly toward his desk.

"Hey," Starsky called, getting the man's attention.

Vernson veered over to their desks. "Hey, guys. What's up?".

"Just gonna ask you that," Starsky replied. He signaled the man to lean in closer so they wouldn't be overheard. "You gettin' in on the case or what?"

Vernson sighed and leaned forward, both hands on the edge of the desk. "Nothing so glamorous. I'm just the gopher for the Quincy detectives who are working here, since I'm fairly free at the moment. If they want a record or a file pulled for this specific area, then they get me to unravel the red tape. Other than office help, Metro's not going to get too involved."

"Just tell me they've got leads," Hutch pleaded quietly.

Starsky's own heart fell when he saw Vernson's face.

"Guys, they're running on empty." Vernson shook his head sadly. "This guy has left fewer clues than Jack the Ripper. No prints, hairs, fibers or shoe prints that can't be explained or matched to the victim's home environment. Hell, half of their theories about the M.O. were shot out of the water this morning. The body being found today just doesn't fit."

"What if the killer thought the body wouldn't be found until Sunday?" Hutch asked.

Vernson shrugged. "They're working on it, but that park is pretty heavily used in the evenings by the older folks and would have been swarming with kids once school let out. The killer could have chosen it out of desperation, but that doesn't fit either. So far all the bodies have been found within twenty-four hours after death. Including this one."

Hutch reached out a hand for the folder Vernson had tucked under an arm. "I want to see her."

Vernson looked startled, glancing strangely at Hutch, then at Starsky. "How...how did you know I had her picture?"

"A guess," Hutch answered quickly. "Can I see?"

Starsky didn't like it, didn't want Hutch to get farther into this. "We weren't invited, Hutch," he warned quietly, willing Vernson to say no. "If she is from our district-"

"Do you mind?" Hutch repeated forcefully, but politely, to Vernson. "Please, Abe?"

Vernson hesitated a moment, then passed over the folder silently. Hutch opened it and froze, his face losing all its color. Starsky found himself out of his chair in an instant, standing over his partner's shoulder. Inside, along with the basic paperwork was a family photo of a young girl. She was small and dark with almost porcelain skin and delicate features. Allowing himself only a glance, Starsky pulled the folder out of his partner's fingers and handed it back to the Vernson.

"Thanks," he said quickly, before Hutch could react. He needn't have worried, as Hutch seemed in too much of a stupor to protest. "We're packin' up shop for tonight. Good luck with the case." He tugged at Hutch's arm as he spoke, feeling the need to get the man up and out.

He's gonna lose it again if he doesn't get out of here, Starsky decided. He had known that seeing the victim's face wasn't going to help Hutch at all.

Vernson waved them away and headed tiredly for his desk as they left the squad room.

Time for Huggy's, Starsky decided as he dragged his pale partner with him. Time to get him loosened up.


Friday night at The Pits was always busy. There was a good crowd, loud music, friendly groups, food and a lot of laughter this early in the evening. Later, it would get quieter, darker and more intimate, but now was as close to 'family hour' as the place ever got.

Hutch was feeling numb, sitting in the corner with Starsky and with a glassful of some really good bourbon. They hadn't said two words to each other on the way, for which Hutch was thankful. He had no interest in taking part in any sort of conversation. He figured Starsky must feel the same way, as the bottle had been Starsky's decision.

To bad he's wasting all that money on me, he thought, feeling dead inside and out. I don't think it's possible to drink enough to forget.

He threw back the liquid without flinching at the burn. Starsky was watching him covertly, but had yet to touch his own glass. Hutch knew it was all for him, if he felt he needed it. Without any dinner on his stomach, it wouldn't take much more to make sure he was numb for the rest of the night. As if I hadn't been numb before I came in here.

He waited for Starsky to say something, to ask, accuse or berate. He wanted to get it over with, needed any excuse he could find to storm out like he had the last time. Starsky had made it easy for him: neutral territory, a loud crowd who wouldn't think a thing about a boisterous argument, and alcohol to take the blame of a bad temper.

He's made it so easy that I can't do it. Hutch sighed as he poured himself another drink. This one wasn't going to disappear as fast as the last one. He knew that it would feel too much like running away. So I sit here and take my medicine.

Starsky said nothing, watching the crowd and seemingly comfortable with the way the evening was playing out. Hutch knew he wasn't being ignored, quite the contrary. He had Starsky's complete attention. And his patience.

"Did you see her hands, Starsk?" Hutch ventured quietly, leaning back to watch the action in the bar. "It was her, the girl I saw in my dream."

"How can you be sure?" Starsky asked carefully, voice pitched to carry only to him. "Did you see enough in your dream to ID her?"

"Not clearly, except for her hands," Hutch replied, staring into his glass. It seemed to reflect the bloody scene back at him. "The hands looked so young and mature at the same time. I knew them as soon as I saw the family photo."

They were both quiet for a few moments, letting the crowd's noise fill up the silence.

"Where is this all coming from?"

"I don't know," Hutch admitted softly.

"How often has it happened to you?"

"I'm not sure." The blond shifted uncomfortably. "Twice, maybe three times. The first one I'm sure of is the one in the Torino. Then the dream. I think the time Vernson was attacked was one, but I'm not sure."

"It's evil, Hutch," Starsky said softly, finally taking a sip of his own drink.

"Don't be ridiculous." He sighed, feeling an overwhelming urge to mock and jeer at the man for his comment. He bit his tongue, hard.

"When we were in the locker room, before the incident in Homicide, I felt it happen," Starsky said, leaning closer to him.

Hutch looked at his partner in shock. He felt it? He knew? "What?" he hissed. "What did you feel?"

"I felt evil, disgust, a foulness worse than a sewer. It all came and went in a second." Starsky's eyes found his in the dim light and were deadly serious. "It was between us, then it was gone. And you were sitting and staring until I shook you."

Hutch didn't know what he'd felt at the moment. Surprise? Confusion? "I don't remember it," he admitted. "But it's true, isn't it?" Starsky was silent, watching him closely. "And later?"

Starsky sighed. "In the car. It was there again, just seconds before you moved." He winced. "It was between us."

Hutch felt himself shiver. He suddenly wanted to lash out at Starsky and storm out of The Pits, cutting himself off from this conversation. Instead, he clenched his hand around the shot glass. "No! That's not the way things work!"

"The way things are and the way you want things to be are two different worlds, Hutch." Starsky's voice was calm. "If it is evil, then you know what it wants. It's gonna offer you something you can't refuse. You know what it'll want in return."

"This is idiotic!" Hutch protested. "How can you believe in that crap? I'm not going to argue about this anymore. I may not know what the hell is going on, but you know even less than I do. So go find someone else to scare with your stupid superstitions!" He rose abruptly, stalled by the grip of iron on his wrist. He wanted to fight, to shake the man off, but was restrained by the stares they were now drawing.

"I'm taking you home," Starsky announced firmly, tightening his grip. "We can talk about this later. Or not. Up to you."

Hutch watched his friend's face, saw the offer was meant sincerely and suddenly realized he didn't want to be alone. Maybe I just need some time. "Or not," he answered quietly, no longer fighting the grip on his arm.

"'Kay." Starsky gave him a smile that didn't make it to his eyes. "But let's find something to eat on the way home. I think we're gonna need our strength."

They left the bottle behind them.


The evening had seemed to go well after they left The Pits, but it was only surface deep. Starsky felt tremendous frustration at the agreement he had made earlier in the evening.

They had stopped just long enough to pick up take-out for dinner, and ate it quietly in front of Hutch's TV. But Hutch had had little appetite and Starsky himself took no enjoyment in what he ate. Every second of the evening he longed to ask more questions, push his friend to talk about the case more, dig at the source of the problem. But he couldn't, he had agreed to the terms. He had not counted on the fact that Hutch would almost ignore him completely.

When the late news had signed off, with little spoken between them, Hutch had taken a shower and started his normal bedtime routine. He had not bothered to ask Starsky if he was staying or not, and Starsky had made his bed on the couch, feeling invisible.

Time seemed to pass slowly, with only the sound of the heat cycling on and off to mark the passing hours.

I wish I could just drift off. Starsky sighed, rubbing at tired eyes that strained to see in the dark. He felt uncomfortable for some reason, not just with the couch, but with the whole apartment. He tried to relax as much as he could but found himself looking and listening for something unknown.

Maybe it was just the argument. He remembered their words at the beach. I knew he was throwing that crap up to avoid the subject, like when he left The Pits that last time. Next time, I'm not going to lose sight of the questions.

He shifted uncomfortably, trying to roll on his side without falling off of the narrow cushions.

Something touched him.

The thin finger of a cold breeze found the nape of his neck, barely brushing at curls and skin. He froze, his skin crawling with the touch. The oily coolness flowing down his neck felt obscene in a room warm and cozy only a seconds ago. It floated past his head, touching a bit of ear, brushing at a cheek, and he could smell the stink of death as it floated by.

Heart racing, adrenaline surging, he was almost overwhelmed by the urge to flee. He barely resisted the need to brush the dirty breath off of him, gasping at the fetid stink. He stayed as still as he could, wondering if he was shaking as badly as he thought.

If I stay still, it will go away, he thought shakily. Don't move! Let it leave on its own, then it will leave you alone.

He could feel his sweat freezing on him as he fought his terror. Somehow he knew it didn't see him, didn't know him, it...

Hutch! Damn!


It was dark and seductive. He was drifting with no control, allowed only a few clear glimpses of a room he struggled to focus on. It took him a few moments to remember that he really didn't exist in this place.

Private party.

It was a large room: bar, couches, a dancing area spread out at a respectable distance which could hold dozens of people. The expensive decoration and furniture spoke of money. It looked comfortable, intimate and dark. There were people here, but no one seemed to notice him.

Not a large crowd. Strange though. They have no faces.

He could not focus on their features, as if a large, wet brush had erased individual details. The faceless crowd talked, laughed and seemed to enjoy themselves, but Hutch felt the words flow by him, not catching their meaning.

A mannequin party. But something is wrong with this place...

{{What is it you seek here, Detective?}} The first words he could understand wrapped around him and he welcomed them, even though he could not find their source.


{{Questions are cheap. Answers are expensive.}}

He saw her then, the person he had unknowingly been looking for. He was jolted at how out of place she was here. She was young, too young, and with a feeling of dread he realized she was a solitary female in a room full of adult males. And somehow, she seemed to be the center of all their attention.

{{Pretty little one. So lovely, isn't she?}}

Hutch found himself wanting to flinch at the sight of her. She was young, only fourteen by her looks. Her strawberry blond hair hung down to her waist, the color glowing against the blue of a too-revealing halter and low-slung slacks. A seductive child in adult dress. He seemed to drift toward her and could clearly see the blue-gray eyes and the sprinkling of freckles the makeup could not hide. Neither could she hide the fearfully darting eyes, the uncomfortable withdrawal from a male arm, nor her forced laughter at something said.

She shouldn't be here, it isn't safe. She's scared.

{{She should be.}} The voice sounded sad, hopeless.

Hutch longed to reach out, to protect her from a room full of fear and adult dangers.

{{She has been chosen.}}


He struggled then, in the grip of the nothingness in which he was held. He wanted, needed, to grab the girl and take her someplace safe, take her back home, stop what he knew would happen to her. But there was no fighting. He had no control.

Please! There has to be a way! Some way!

He watched in horrified fascination as one of the faceless men came up and grabbed her elbow, ignoring her half-hearted protest. He wanted to yell at the man, demand that he let her go. He felt his whole being shiver as she searched the uncaring group for help, meeting his non-existent eyes for a bare second. She was being dragged to a corner of the room, and as if a word had been passed, a crowd started to form slowly around her slight body.

{{What can you do?}} the voice asked sincerely. {{What are you willing to do?}}

Anything! Anything!

{{What is the price a man would pay for another's life?}} The voice was cold, yet seductive, surrounding him and holding him close.

Help me stop it!

{{Answers are expensive. Will you pay the price?}}

Yes, I'll pay! I'll pay it! Just stop this!!

Blistering heat hit him like an erupting volcano, enfolding and scalding him in its grip. Torn between two enormous powers, one hot lava and the other painfully cold, he lost vision and direction. He tried to fight the strong pull, feeling himself ripped from where he needed to be.

NO!! I'm not done!

The coldness hissed angrily as it retreated from the warmth that now enveloped him. {{She'll die without the price being paid!}}

NO!! Please!! Please....

He could feel the answers just beyond his reach, could feel them as they disappeared with the cold and he was sucked into the burning fire.




The plea echoed as he fought the heat and power that surrounded him. Control and movement returned in a rush and he struck out at the intruding force.

"...me! Hutch!" The roar in the air turned into words and meaning.

He froze as he realized he was being held by two strong hands on his shoulders. It's Starsky! Damn, damn, damn!! He gasped as the rest of the darkened room formed around him, feeling himself shake. "What the hell are you doing!" He shrugged violently, trying to loosen the restraining hands.

The dim outline that was Starsky moved back slightly, releasing his grip. "It was... you were dreaming." His voice sounded shaky and uncertain. "You okay?"

"Yes, I'm okay," Hutch answered angrily. "I was just fine until you crept up on me. What do you think you're doing, wandering around in the dark like that?!"

"You were having a nightmare." Starsky shifted back a little, sounding vague. "I...uh...heard you-"

"I was fine, Starsky. You must have been the one with a nightmare," Hutch replied coldly.

"In your bed?" The amusement in Starsky's voice sounded forced. "I was awake enough to come over here, Hutch. Wasn't the other way round."

"I'm fine," Hutch made his voice sound casual. He was still angry, but it was a cold passion; he was in no mood to argue with the man. "Go back to bed, Starsky." He wished he could see Starsky's face.

"You sure?"

"Yes." Damn you. Leave. "Let's get some sleep."

The dark form moved off of his bed then, and Hutch could feel the shift in weight. "Sleep tight, Hutch," came the muffled reply as Starsky made his way back to the couch.

"Sure, you too," Hutch replied, keeping his tone light.

They both shifted and settled in the silence, Hutch wrapping his suddenly cold body up in an extra fold of blanket. He listened as the silence fell, knowing his partner was awake. They both would be for awhile.

I almost had it! he fumed, jaw tight with strangled anger. I am going to find her. By myself. No more interference. No more messing up. No more of his clinging, where he is neither wanted nor needed. As of tomorrow, I work this case alone.


Starsky took a sip of the sweetened coffee, rubbing once again at his tired features. Only now that they were in the squad room, each at his own desk, was Starsky beginning to feel as if he were able to relax a little.

He knew he looked bad, like he was strung out from a night of partying. Hutch looked better, but then his partner had been able to get some sleep. Although Hutch looked and acted close to normal, all of Starsky's warning lights were going off. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to pinpoint just why things felt so wrong.

He has the nightmare, then I'm the one who's up all night listening and watching for the bogey man. He couldn't shake the memory of the night before.

He had bolted off of the couch despite his fear. Approaching his sleeping partner, it had seemed to take him an eternity to move closer toward the head of the bed. Starsky had strained to catch the sound of breathing in the still form. He had wanted to withdraw, afraid to find that he was too late to save Hutch. Instead he had drawn closer and placed his hand on a cold, cold forehead.

We must have scared the life out of each other, Starsky mused, knowing that if he ever could have had a heart attack, it would have been at that moment. He jumped and yelled bloody murder as soon as I touched him, almost knocked me over. No wonder he was upset. Starsky had felt strange then, lying to Hutch like that. But he had been afraid to tell him what he had felt in the room or about his fear that whatever it was had been after his partner. And in the morning I discover that I really am invisible. Hutch had not said an extra word, looked at him, or acted like he was anything but alone. When Starsky had tried to talk, to brush off the night with false morning cheerfulness, Hutch's reply had been short, sweet and cool. They had even driven to work in separate cars.

He's beyond mad, Starsky decided, having been given the same treatment all morning. It's like he doesn't even care enough to be mad. I've been completely shut out. Yesterday was bad, but this is even worse.

Even now, when he knew Hutch was aware of his scrutiny, there was no response. No frustration, no pouting, no 'I'm ignoring you but watching to make sure you know it' signs Starsky knew from years of experience. This cold, casual and complete indifference could only mean one thing: Hutch was preparing to deal him out.

Sorry, buddy. Up the ante as high as you like, but you're going to find me seeing your raises. The stakes are too high to fold on this one.


Hutch sailed through his paperwork quickly, Starsky's scrutiny not troubling him in the slightest. It was rude, but easily brushed aside. He felt like he was finally getting somewhere for a change. If he had only known before what he knew now, he would have gone solo long ago. It felt exhilarating to be able to make his own decisions, follow his own instincts without having to seek anyone's approval or agreement.

But I can't act yet, he reminded himself sternly. He still officially needed a partner. But once Dobey saw what he could accomplish on his own, saw the Shredder brought in without unnecessary teamwork, then that would be the right time to sever the ties. Until then, he'd find reasons to work on his own. And if I can remember enough from the dream, he decided, then maybe it wasn't a wasted opportunity. I saw the girl. I saw where she was. There has to be some way to find her, to stop the Shredder before he can kill again.

There weren't many clubs that private. It had seemed organized, like a group meeting or a membership gathering. There was a business list he could pull up from records, or even the Yellow Pages if he had to. Now, the ultra-private clubs might be harder to find, but there were ways. And since the victim had been the only female he had seen in the dream, looking for a 'men only' club might be a good place to start.

Checking his watch, he decided now was as good a time as any. "Personal business," he declared for Starsky's benefit. He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and turned toward the exit, itching to do some real work for a change. "Be back in an hour, or so."

"Oh," Starsky said casually, eyes barely flicking in his direction. "Anything important?"

"Only to me." Hutch didn't look back as he left the squad room. Now it's time to put this killer to rest.


Starsky casually stretched and glanced at the wall clock, giving his partner a couple more minutes' lead. Hutch wasn't the only one who had taken a moment during the morning's workload to attend to personal business. The keys to a nondescript undercover car, almost as beat up as Hutch's own, were even now sitting in his back pocket. This would be relatively easy. Later it would get harder.


The afternoon had not gone well for Hutch, and he was tempted to honk at the slow car in front of him. He had already taken more time than he should and wanted to get back to the station before Starsky got too curious. They had rounds this afternoon and a meeting with the D.A.

His trip to the Alcoholic Beverage Control offices had been fruitless. It wasn't often that he and Starsky had had to work with the ABC, and he had just assumed that a list of clubs who had applied for liquor licenses would be readily available. According to the clerk, it was going to take a few days to get to his request. He would have to think of something else. Time was too short.


Both detectives left the D.A.'s office in a dark mood. The case against Andrew Simmons was still too flimsy to get a conviction, so the D.A. had decided not to charge the man with assault and battery. Hardly surprising when the victim refused to I.D. his attacker.

Starsky had arrived at the D.A.'s office just minutes after his partner, having to hide the undercover car around the back. He had spent the afternoon tailing Hutch, but had yet to see him doing anything that would seem out of the ordinary for a detective working on a case. He didn't want to leave Hutch alone for the night, worrying that whatever had happened last night would happen again.

"If we could just get somethin' on the guy," Starsky sighed heavily, trying to make conversation. Even now, on the way to the elevator in City Hall Hutch seemed distant. "All we have to do is catch Simmons in the act, then we've got somethin' to charge him with."

"And you think that's going to do any good?" Hutch grunted, glancing through the man's file.

"Sure," Starsky replied, stabbing at the elevator button. He reached over to tap at the file in Hutch's hand. "Look at that rap sheet. Tell me the man won't do some serious time. We get some leverage on him and he'll turn on Martin."

"No one turns on Martin."

"Simmons will." Starsky gave Hutch a slight smile. Remember what we can do?

Hutch gave him a cold look as they entered the nearly-full elevator.

So much for this case, Starsky thought, at a loss as to how to keep a conversation going. We're off duty in a few minutes. How do I arrange to tag along for the rest of the evening? "So, you wanna come over to my place and order some Chinese?"

"No." Hutch never even looked at him, just stared politely ahead.

Starsky put his hands in his pockets, trying to act casual as he worked to think of something. He rocked a bit on his heels and watched as the elevator's floor indicator reached '1'. They stepped forward briskly when the doors opened and then Starsky found himself trying hard to keep up with Hutch.

"What about Huggy's?" he asked hopefully.


"So, then, what are you doin' tonight?" And will you be all right? Starsky added silently.

"Nothing," came the blunt reply. "I'm gone. See you tomorrow." With barely a glance Hutch headed down the step toward the parking lot and the LTD.

Starsky stood at the top of the court house's outer steps and watched as his partner slipped into the crowd.

Now what do I do? Tailing Hutch during the day was one thing, but he couldn't hope to keep up with him all the time. Guess I don't have any choice at this point. I can't let him do this alone.

With a tired sigh and a grumbling stomach, Starsky headed back to the loaner car, hoping they didn't have a very exciting evening before them.


The crowd at The Pits that evening was fairly heavy, and Hutch had found Huggy at his customary stance behind the counter, watching his crew and customers interact. He had seated himself at the bar, deciding that the noise and dim lighting would keep any low conversation private enough for his needs.

Huggy had listened carefully when Hutch told him what he wanted.

"Sorry, my friend." Huggy shook his head after a long pause, then leaned across the bar toward him, shrugging slightly. "I don't know what you expect me to do here, my man. Vague descriptions of some red-headed girl aren't much help in such a large city, you know?"

It wasn't what Hutch wanted to hear. "You've got connections. Use them," he snapped. He worried unconsciously at his bracelet, feeling his irritation grow.

Huggy looked at him sharply, eyes suddenly hooded and hard. "You get me more info, and I'll see what I can do," he replied carefully. "But you've given me nothin', man. Nothin'."

"I need some help, Huggy," he heard himself hiss as he grabbed Huggy's wrist. "There's got to be something you know that I can use. You owe me!" Hutch slowly tightened his grip, feeling his anger and frustration beating in his heart and his skull.

He watched as Huggy's face tightened into obvious anger, black eyes turning hard and flinty. "I don't owe you a damn thing, De-tec-tive Hutchinson," he replied tightly. "What I give, I give out of respect, friendship and the need for a little help now and then, in case you've mis-under-stood how it works."

What the...?! Sudden shock at his actions hit Hutch like a blow to the chin. Releasing his grip, he backed off quickly, cheeks heating with embarrassment. "I'm...I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do that." He rubbed his face, eyes suddenly tired and burning in the thick atmosphere. Shrugging, he gave the bartender a apologetic smile. "But I need to find her. Now! Before-"

"Before what, Hutch?" a low, familiar voice asked from close behind him.

He didn't have to turn to know who had sidled up behind him. His anger flared again. "None of your business," he replied curtly, declining to turn around. He smiled at Huggy. "Could I get a beer while I'm here, Hug? Please?"

"I'm buyin', Hug. Set us both up."

"No. Thanks." Hutch objected sharply. Butting in again! He could feel the resentment building. "I can pay my own way."

Hutch heard the low crinkle of leather and assumed Starsky must have shrugged.

Huggy's gaze softened a little as he glanced from Hutch to the man behind him. "Sure. Two beers comin' up."

Watching Huggy move away to fill the orders, Hutch tried to ignore the fact that Starsky was making himself comfortable on the bar stool to his right. Public place, can't let him drive me off. He was not going to let Starsky intimidate him.

"What's up?"

Hutch knew the question was far less casual than it sounded. "Told you," he replied carefully. "It's none of your business. Or don't you know what 'off duty' means?"

"I know," Starsky drawled, turning halfway on his stool to face him, "that there isn't such a thing when you get that blond head set on somethin'. You forget, I know where your attention has been for the last few months. I've been there too."

Hutch cut off his retort as Huggy came up with their order.

"He give you enough to scrounge around with, Hug?" Starsky asked as his beer was placed in front of him.

"I said-" Hutch began angrily.

"Not near enough," Huggy grumbled, rolling his eyes.

"This was a private matter," Hutch hissed at Huggy, who only shrugged in reply and turned to walk the few paces he needed to leave them some semblance of privacy.

"If it's about the Shredder case, you know damn well it isn't a 'private' matter, partner." Taking a sip of his beer, Starsky shrugged casually. "I know you must've seen somethin' again. Got one of those visions like before, didn't you?"

Cold fury filled Hutch at the question, and he felt himself stiffen with the effort not to respond physically. He wanted to explode, to strike out at the invasion of his privacy, every muscle prepared for action, hands in ready fists. Not trusting his voice, not willing to make a scene in front of Huggy, he rose swiftly to leave.

Before he had moved far, Starsky's hand reached out and grabbed him solidly by the wrist.

And he was rocked by the blow.


The room twisted, slowly and sickeningly in all directions at once. Hutch felt disconnected somehow, as if the strangeness of the room and the world at large was not important. He did not know, nor care, how long it took him to notice that he was not alone.

There was anger here. Thick, cold, rage surrounded and wove through him in ribbons of glaring light. Where it touched him he could feel the burning emptiness, feeling no fear as it tried to anchor itself within him. This he recognized.

There was also great warmth. Volcanic, flowing, growing warmth was with him, next to him, familiar in its presence. This he also recognized.

But where the cold tried to enter, the heat had already been welcomed, and even as he saw all this dispassionately, he knew that both could not exist in the same space.

And so did they.

They moved. He fell with them; dragged under.


Starsky's move had been instinctive, meant only to keep Hutch from leaving. He had expected skin, wrist and cloth but had ended up with a handful of cold and disgusting foulness.

The first second's shock should have forced him away, driven him back with the flowing, unseen filth that tightened his insides. But this was Hutch he held; there was no way he could back off. Without thinking he gripped harder, finding the cold biting back at the affront, trying to wrench him away from the man beside him.

Time and sound slowed as Starsky fought the unseen, chilly waves of decay that threatened to crawl into him. He could not fight this very long, knew without a doubt that he didn't have the strength. He moved eyes that seemed to take forever to find Hutch's face. Not alone! Hutch?

But Hutch was not there, not present in the empty blue eyes that seemed unfocused in the blank face.


Between one thought and another, he felt power flow through him as if he had tapped an unknown reserve from within.


He shoved without moving, pushed what he couldn't bear to touch, reached in and grabbed what was familiar...


...and found the world running at normal speed once again.

Feeling as if he had been body-slammed into an invisible wall, Starsky wobbled and gasped. His lungs burned with his first intake of air, as if he had been holding his breath for ages, and his left palm felt singed and blistered.

Moving quickly, tightening the painful grip on Hutch's wrist, he dragged him though the milling crowd, then into and through the small kitchen. Reaching The Pits' storage room, he wrenched it open even as he heard Huggy's voice attempting to soothe the startled kitchen help. Door slamming behind them, Starsky checked the small space. Two weak bulbs illuminated a room full of shelves and restaurant supplies, all surprisingly neat and tidy. Starsky knew they would have as much privacy here as they needed. Huggy would see to it.

"It happened again!" Starsky's eyes sought those of his unresponsive partner and he jerked the man savagely despite the pain in his hand. "Look at me, damn it!"

Hutch looked drained, his pale blue eyes the only color in his face. He seemed mesmerized by the grip Starsky had on his arm.


Slowly, Hutch looked up and seemed to try to focus on him. Starsky watched closely, wondering if Hutch could be in shock.

"What was it?" Starsky asked harshly. "Tell me."

A moment passed, then Hutch looked away, head shaking slowly.

"Tell me?" This time it was a whispered plea.

"I don't know," came the trembling reply. Hutch's face seemed to regain color as he repeated the words, turning the answer into an angry mantra. "I don't know. "I don't know! I don't know!"

Starsky nodded once, reaching out with his free hand to grip a shoulder and squeeze it firmly. "So, we'll find out."

Until that moment Starsky had ignored the pain in his other hand. Glancing down, he saw knuckles and joints white with the force of his grip. Feeling as if all of his fingers were locked in place, he gave his partner's shoulder one last squeeze and started to pry the throbbing hand off of Hutch's wrist.

Then they both took a step back. Starsky shook his hand to try to restore some circulation and winced at the increased pain. He examined the palm, and was surprised that there were no visible wounds. What did I expect? he wondered. The Brand of Evil?

"Let me see it," Hutch asked quietly. Starsky held it out to him and Hutch inspected it. He bent fingers at joints, glancing up as Starsky hissed at the movement. "It's stiff, but I don't see anything else." Concerned eyes looked up at him. "Why the pain?"

Reclaiming his hand and wiggling the fingers, Starsky found the pain fading quickly. "You tell me, Hutch. What happened here?"

Hutch turned to pace toward a shelf and back, a useless exercise in such a small area. Looking confused, almost fearful, he rubbed at his wrist and turned back to pace again.

"I can't quite remember," he finally admitted. "It's all fuzzy and blurred. I was looking for information from Huggy, then you arrived. Then it was like things exploded and I couldn't take it all in. I can't remember the details this time." There was a moment's uncertain pause. He stopped his pacing, half turned toward Starsky. "Do you think I'm...mentally ill?" Ocean blue eyes looked up to him, asking for the truth, waiting quietly for the answer.

"No," Starsky answered in surprise. In fact, he couldn't remember it even crossing his mind. He smiled a bit then. "But then I wouldn't swear to it, either. I know what I felt, Hutch. I felt the same....evilness that I've come across before. So if you're nuts, you're takin' me with you."

Hutch resumed his pacing, taking a minute before finally sighing, "Maybe we are crazy."

"Tell me what you do remember. From that night. What were you looking for?"

Hutch sighed, stopping to lean with both hands against a wall, head down, looking worn. "Everything was crazy," he admitted. "Nothing stood still. I remember someone else there. They...they...." He stopped and sighed then. His voice dropped almost to a wistful whisper. "I saw her, Starsk. I saw the next victim."

Starsky found himself swallowing hard. "You mean, like the last one?"

"No." Hutch's eyes met his hopefully. "This one is still alive."

Eyes widening at the news, Starsky found himself hoping. "You mean you... you think we can find her?"

"I've already tried. But it's not enough. I didn't see enough to go on! I don't know how to find her on my own and they didn't tell me anything I could use!"

"They? Who's they?"

"Just a voice, Starsky," Hutch replied tiredly. "Just a voice."

"And what," Starsky began, feeling the tingle of fear flow up his spine, "did the voice want in return?"

"I didn't get that far." Hutch went back to pacing. "I was interrupted." His glance toward Starsky let him know who had done the interrupting. "But I saw her, Starsk. I know what she looks like, I saw where she was. The names, the place, the information, they were almost there."

Starsky didn't know what to say to that. He really didn't need to ask what the price for those names would have been. What else could they have asked of Hutch? What parts of himself wouldn't he sell to save a life? They would want what evil always wanted, of course.

"We'll find her," Starsky reassured him, reaching out to grip Hutch's arm in support. "I want you to tell me everything that you remember from that night. Everything. Then we'll go over what happened out there in the bar. And we'll go over it again and again until we find something we can go on." He gave his partner an affectionate shake. "And we'll save her from that son of a bitch."


Randolph Thomas rubbed at his face tiredly. Seated at his desk in a back room of the antique store, he felt as if he had run a marathon. It shouldn't have been this hard. Not when he was this far along on what was meant to have been such an easy assignment. He was due to report his progress, or lack of it to his Master, and he wondered what was going to happen to him this time.

Jeff Trent was in the front of the store even now, waiting upon some well-off customers. Why his master chose to insinuate himself in his business, out of all the others Trent was in control of, Thomas had never dared to contemplate. It was never a good sign to find oneself watched so closely. Add to that the fact that bad news, delivered at the wrong time, had cost Thomas more than one contemporary over the many, long years.

Thomas hoped Trent was in a really good mood now, or this was not going to go over well.


The alleyway behind Huggy's was fairly clean, as alleyways went. It was swept often, hosed down occasionally, and loitering was strongly discouraged, which made the back of the establishment almost as welcoming as the front. The bar owner was obviously not blind to the number of customers who seemed to prefer the more 'private' entrance. But tonight, there didn't seem to be much traffic in and out.

Lijah had drawn himself up into a ball, knees to chest, against a back wall, out of the way. He pulled the newest layer of clothing closer up under his neck, enjoying for a second its clean newness. But it was, at best, a transitory pleasure, for he had many troubling things on his mind.

"It was worth the risk," Lijah mumbled to the nearby shadow, eyes on The Pits' back door. "He was strong enough in his own right, just unfocused. There was a good chance he would have broken the hold by himself."

{{You think he could have done it without your help?}} Charles sounded uncertain, even a bit worried. {{I don't know if he could have or not, Lijah. But don't you think that your interference will be noticed? Don't you realize how dangerous this is?}}

"Course I do," Lijah snorted, pulling the sweater up closer. "I only had to push a little. It was just enough to help. He has the potential. They'll think it was him."

{{And next time? When a little 'help' won't be enough?}} The form that was Charles shimmered and moved within its confined, shadowy space. {{Wait. They're coming. Behave yourself, my friend.}}

Only a few seconds later the two detectives appeared through the door, both looking grim and weary. They said nothing to each other as the Torino was unlocked and driven away.

Carefully, Lijah focused his mind and reached out toward the moving car. With a light and cautious touch, he entered the space occupied by one Kenneth Hutchinson. Loath to disturb the raw wounds, he looked for the wisps and traces that the other force might have left behind. There were too many depending on him, too much going on in other quarters to get caught with his fingers in this pie.

A few minutes after the departure of the familiar Torino, the elderly man smiled. He had found what he needed, and soon so would Hutch.


Starsky gripped the steering wheel tightly, then consciously relaxed the muscles in his arms and shoulders. He was tired, they both were, but it was better to be doing something than to sit and let the frustration grow. After what had happened, they both needed time to think about their next steps. The only thing he knew for certain right now was that Hutch was coming home with him.

He still felt the horror of Hutch's nightmare. To see the girl, see where she was and to know that something horrible was going to happen to her would have driven him crazy too. No wonder Hutch had been uptight. Unfortunately, knowing something must be done and figuring out what to do was two different things. And like Huggy had said, there wasn't much to go on. The city was just too big.

There has to be some way to find that girl. Starsky glanced over at his partner who was stretched out into the corner of the passenger seat, head back and eyes closed. He didn't look well. Maybe some food and rest will help him remember something he's forgotten. If we can't find the girl, maybe we can track down that bar.

He knew that Hutch had started the wheels rolling on that subject, but when they got the list they would still need the time to go through all the places to find the one they were looking for. That would take more time than they might have. It would be better if they could find the girl first, but since there was apparently no connection between the victims, he didn't have a clue where to start looking.

Hutch sighed and as he went to rub at his forehead, the flash of silver drew Starsky's eye. He had forgotten about the bracelet. It wasn't a bad piece of jewelry, if you liked that sort of thing. Now, for some reason, Starsky's mind seemed to find its presence important and unsettling.

Why does seeing that thing bother me? Starsky remembered the antique store and how fascinated Hutch seemed with it. Wasn't that just before the first time I felt sick in the locker room? He felt the hairs on his nape stand on end. Could that be what started all this? Is that where he's getting all these 'visions'?

He had opened his mouth to ask when Hutch suddenly sat bolt upright, a surprised look on his face.

"I saw it!" Hutch exclaimed excitedly. "Starsk, I saw it!"

Keeping his eye on the traffic, Starsky was careful to keep his voice casual. "What did you see?"

Hutch was looked excited now, hope lighting up his face. "It was during that last 'vision' in the bar, just now. I... there were some images. But they were in the background, and I didn't really get to 'see' them."

Hutch paused for a moment, eyes closed as he tried to remember. "It was about the girl, something they were going to use to twist the knife in my gut. I..." His voice faltering slightly then, and he gulped nervously. "I saw her grave."

Starsky didn't reply, waiting for Hutch to put all the pieces together.

"I recognized the cemetery." Hutch looked at him strangely, as if surprised about the fact.

"A cemetery?" Starsky shook his head in confusion. "How can you? There's a lot of them around here."

"Remember Alex and Mateo ?"

"Sure." Starsky remembered them well. He and Hutch had known the Robbery Detectives for several years, and the four of them had gotten along well. Starsky had felt he and Hutch had a lot in common with the other pair, and there had been a lot teasing and ragging between the two teams. But all it had taken was one bank robbery bust blowing up in their faces to end it all. One cop's funeral was hard to forget, a double ceremony even worse. "You mean she was...I mean is going to be buried there?"

"I recognized it. The trees, the skyline, and remember how its layout was unusual, with those cliffs on one side and the ocean down below? Remember the water tower in the distance?"

Starsky remembered the scene vividly. It had been a gorgeous day, even for the funerals. He and Hutch had paid their condolences after the lowering of the caskets and the last prayers. There had been that cool marble bench under a tree they had shared. Neither of them had spoken until they had gotten their fill of the beautiful view. Starsky had thought that the only thing that had spoiled the panorama of wooded hills, time etched cliff and blue-green ocean had been that old water tower off to the side. He remembered turning to Hutch and saying, 'I could do worse than this' and Hutch's agreeing nod. They had both gone down to the office to inquire within.

"But if it was her funeral, she wouldn't have had a tombstone yet. How would that help us to find out who she is?"

"She was buried with family." Hutch looked confident now. "You get me there and I can show you where she's going to be."

Checking his watch, Starsky winced at the time. "There'll be nobody there. Let's get to my place and see if we can get someone on the phone to let us in."

Starsky drove to his apartment and they set out making phone calls. Cliff Haven Undenominational Cemetery was closed for the night. With no 'emergency' phone number to call, no other contact information and no light left to work with, there was little choice other than to wait until the morning.

They made do with pot luck from the refrigerator, then they settled on the late news on the television. Both sat silently at the table, listening to the news and picking at their food.

Moving the food on his plate around aimlessly, Starsky was surprised that he hadn't noticed before how many times Hutch rubbed at his right wrist or flexed that hand. Even now he was watching TV from his place at the table, rubbing at the jewelry.

Thinking back to that scene in the bar, Starsky remembered how his own hand had hurt when he had grabbed Hutch's wrist. He had had no intent of touching the silver piece, and it seemed to him that whatever had gone on at that moment could have been because of the metal between them. It was time to get a better look at it. "You're stayin' the night, right?"

Hutch shrugged without concern. With his hair mussed, shadows under his eyes and the deep lines of fatigue in his forehead, he seemed to have aged years during the day. "I guess."

"Good." Starsky nodded. "I can call in early and say we're sick, then we can get to the cemetery office long before eight." Casually, he pointed to Hutch's wrist with a bread stick. "I haven't gotten a good look at that yet."


"The bracelet. I didn't get a good look at it in the store."

Hutch's face suddenly became guarded. He seemed to concentrate on his plate and his picked-over dinner. "Nothing to see."

Starsky could feel the tension growing between them. I'm right. That has to be it. He doesn't like my interest in it. "Oh, come on. I saw the way you fell in love with it in the store." He flashed his partner a friendly smile and held out his hand. "What? Afraid I'm gonna steal it?"

With exaggerated care Hutch pulled back his sleeve and removed the silver band. His eyes were hard and watchful as he silently placed it on Starsky's open palm.

Starsky froze, fighting the urge to drop the object at first touch. During the first fraction of a second he could have sworn he had been handed a living, moving piece of filth. Steeling his face, he drew in a slow breath, finding the crawling sensation was dissipating as the seconds passed.

So this is where it's coming from. There isn't any mistaking that. He felt a sense of relief that there was something tangible to focus on. So what to do with it now? How much of a hold does it have on Hutch, and how do I get rid of it?

As he turned the bracelet end over end, he watched his partner out of the corner of his eye. He was disappointed to see how possessive Hutch looked. He was tense, as if ready to pounce on the object at any second.

He's obviously not going to let me walk away with it. Starsky was afraid to broach the subject, fearful that his partner wouldn't be willing to listen to 'fanciful tales' and 'baseless superstitions' at the moment.

"You know, you might actually want to take this in to get it appraised." Starsky kept his voice casual. As soon as he had started to speak, Hutch reached out and took the silver from his grasp. Starsky made no move to stop him. "You could have something really valuable here."

"No, thanks," Hutch replied firmly. "I'm not interested in reselling it. It's fine where it is." After the bracelet was returned to his wrist, he sighed like a deflating balloon and leaned heavily on the table. Both hands rubbed at his face. "Look, it's late. I'm going to sack out. Do me a favor and keep the TV to yourself tonight, okay?"

"Wasn't thinkin' of watchin'." Starsky got up and started picking up dishes off of the table. "You go ahead and crash. I'll do this."

Hutch didn't argue the point, but headed to the bathroom. By the time Starsky got the kitchen settled and the apartment locked up, he was making up the couch. After they had exchanged brief 'good-nights', Starsky took over the bathroom for himself. He noticed that although Hutch had placed his watch, pocket contents, necklace and rings on the coffee table as usual, he was still wearing the silver on his wrist.

Staring into the mirror as he was brushing his teeth, Starsky noted the beginning of dark circles under his eyes and accepted the fact that they would only get worse. Hutch was tired and as long as he felt safe he would probably slip off fairly quickly. When Hutch was deeply asleep he would move the wicker chair closer to the couch to stand guard for the night.

Until he figured out how to get that bracelet away from his partner, preferably without a brawl, he was not going to leave Hutch alone and vulnerable. But if would take a brawl to separate the man from the evil on his arm, then a brawl there would be.

When the time was right.


Randolph Thomas sat in his darkened apartment, wincing from wounds that would never show. His eyes followed the small glow of the cigarette as he brought it to his lips, enjoying the dark and the quiet. He had been very lucky this time. Punishment had been swift and dreadful, but not meant to cripple or destroy.

While he could hide in here to recover, he could not afford to waste time. Closing his eyes, he focused attention on the project in question and gently tested the atmosphere. The talisman was still in place, still able to help him direct and center his concentration. Soon, he hoped, it would no longer be needed; he would be able to find Hutchinson at his leisure. Carefully, he branched out and touched the man.

Then groaned aloud when sensing the partner nearby.

Time to get Starsky out of the picture, Ralph decided. They're a stronger unit than I thought.

Those who could someday be recruited against them were to be destroyed before they could become a problem. Usually it was child's play to break up a team. A bit of resentment here, an exaggerated annoyance there. Even a fight over a lover would do. Once divided, they rarely recovered enough to be of much interest to either side.

If Hutchinson can't get rid of his partner long enough to get this done, then I'll have to find some way to do it for him. Or, even better yet...

He brought the cigarette up for another long drag and watched the explosion of sparks as he flicked the ashes into the night. It was going to be a long time until dawn, he might as well put his mind to the problem.


Hutch would have been sitting on the edge of his seat, if it had been humanly possible. Unfortunately, the passenger side of the Torino didn't allow him the room. He was nervous and jittery, feeling as if everything rode on the outcome of the next few minutes. He and Starsky had been waiting at the iron gate of the cemetery since early in the morning. They had made one circuit of the cemetery already, and Hutch had been unable to pinpoint a location. Now, with Starsky driving even slower so that he could get a better look, they were coming to the end of the second circuit. He was afraid he had brought them both here for nothing.

Just then something seemed familiar. "Stop! Stop!" He grabbed at Starsky's arm excitedly and pointed down one row. "It's got to be down there."

Barely waiting for the Torino to stop, he was out the door and walking quickly down the long row. He held his breath until he came to the place he had seen, then exhaled with great relief.

It was unmistakable. Two headstones, with intertwining roses carved down both sides, told of a thirtyish couple who had died together some five years ago. A plain, green span just large enough for one plot lay between that pair and a third, almost identical, headstone. All three bore the family name of Collins.

This is the place! And it's still untouched! Hutch found himself kneeling in the empty space, touching the pristine grass, making sure that it was solid and well rooted. He found his hands shaking slightly, relief flowing like a cure through his veins. She's not here. Not yet. And I know who she is!

It took a warm hand on his shoulder to remind him that there was more to do. Nothing was certain, even now.

The caretaker's records showed that the plot had been bought by a Edward and Hazel Collins, Edward having been buried with his son and daughter-in-law. Hazel was still listed as among the living. After a few, endless moments to dig through his card file, the elderly man was able to find an address.

They made good time despite the morning traffic. Located on the poorer side of the city, the houses that lined these streets were box-shaped and tiny. The only things that seemed to proliferate here were rusty, useless cars, garbage and graffiti.

"There! Let's go." Hutch didn't need to see the non-existent numbers to know which house it would be. "Let me out here, I'll get there while you're parking."

"Not a good idea, partner. We'll do better if we go in slow."

"I'm not going to screw this up," Hutch replied hotly. "I think I know what I'm doing." He glared at Starsky, but was only further annoyed when the Torino kept moving.

"Didn't say you didn't," came the calm reply. Starsky pulled past the building and carefully aligned the car to back into an open spot. "But you're pretty anxious, Hutch. I can understand it, but they won't." He nodded toward the house in question. "And we need to talk."

"There's no time," Hutch snapped, hand reaching for the door handle.

Starsky gave his arm a squeeze, and Hutch stopped. Dark blue eyes looked at him calmly, clearly not willing to just go in and wing it.

"What're we goin' to do when we find her? What're we going to say? 'Hey, kid, glad we found you before you got ripped up'?" Starsky snorted. "Think about it, Hutch! If she is the one, she could be the only way to discover the link to all those other dead girls. But if we go barging in and scarin' her like she's in trouble, she could clam up on us."

He's right, Hutch decided reluctantly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to slow himself down. "Okay. You do it, then. Let's just go." He got out of the car and with hands in pockets, biting his lip, he followed Starsky to the front of the house. He couldn't help but rock on his heels as they waited eternal seconds following Starsky's knock. When the door creaked open a fraction of an inch it was all he could do not to push his way inside.

"Yes?" The woman who appeared was in her late eighties and frail looking. She seemed a bit leery of the two men at her door.

"Hello, Mrs. Hazel Collins?" Starsky asked kindly, reaching for his badge. He opened it to show the woman.

"Yes, I'm Hazel Collins."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am. We're detectives Starsky and Hutchinson and we'd like to ask you a few questions." He handed the badge to her.

"What's happened? Is it Stacy? Is she all right?" The elderly woman's eyes were wide with fear.

Stacy! Hutch grabbed on to the name.

"As far as we know, she's probably fine, ma'am," Starsky soothed. "We'd just like to talk to her for a moment. Does she live here?"

"Yes, she's lived here ever since she was little, right after her parents died. But... but she's not here now. She went to her friend's house for the day." Mrs. Collins opened the door wider to let them in. "Please come in. But why would you want to talk with her? She hasn't done anything wrong, has she?"

"No! Not that we know of," Starsky assured her. "We're just looking into a few things and Stacy may have seen something that could help us on a case. We're not even sure she's the girl we're lookin' for."

"We should be able to tell by a picture, if you happen to have one handy," Hutch broke in, unable to restrain himself. Let it be her! Please let us find her soon!

Hutch held himself still as the lady went to one bookshelf and pulled out a thick album. As she carefully turned page after page, saying something about finding a recent photo, he didn't realize how tense he was until Starsky's friendly pat on the back reminded him to breathe.

Mrs. Collins finally found a picture and handed the album to Hutch. "There she is."

Hutch felt faint with relief. "Yes. That's her."

Strawberry-blond hair, blue-gray eyes and freckles he knew to their exact placement. Knees wobbly, he sat heavily on the worn couch, knowing Starsky would cover for his reaction. Even as he studied the child-woman's face he could hear his partner's soothing voice doing the job he himself should have been doing, gathering more information.

She's still alive. I'm in time. The first flood of relief faded as fear filtered back in. Am I? She's not here. Maybe I am too late.

"Would you be able to tell us where she is, ma'am?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, but I can call her if you want."

"That would be fine, if you don't mind."

"The phone is in the kitchen, I'll just be a moment."

As she disappeared into the other room, Starsky came over to look at the album in Hutch's lap. "Guess I don't have to ask you if you're sure."

"It's her." Hutch turned the picture so his partner could see her better. "She's not much older than this now. Can't be more than fourteen at the most."

They were quiet as Mrs. Collins returned to the room, hand to her face, looking upset. "Oh, my, I'm sorry. I called Stacy's friend, and the mother said she hasn't been there all day. I was sure she said she was going there. I must have misunderstood."

Hutch felt the chills crawling up his spine and was startled as the book was pulled out of his hand. He watched numbly as Starsky held the album out to Mrs. Collins.

"If you don't mind, ma'am, could we borrow this picture for a while? And if you can give us the name and address of her friend we can go out there and straighten this out for you."

"Oh, yes. Please." The woman looked fearful as she removed the photo and handed to Starsky. "I don't understand why she isn't where she said she would be. Please call me if anything is wrong."

Hutch watched as his partner used the most charming smile in his repertoire. "We sure will, ma'am, but I'm sure she's fine. We'll have her call you as soon as she can."

As she wrote down the address, Hutch found himself shaking. We're too late. He's gotten to her. I've failed.

He was startled when Starsky slapped his shoulder. "Come on, partner, no rest for the wicked."

Getting up numbly from the couch, Hutch tried to put on a courteous smile for Mrs. Collins as they departed.

"Where?!" he demanded as they were once more settled in the Torino.

"It's a place about a mile or so closer to the high school," Starsky replied calmly. He glanced over at Hutch and frowned. "We're gettin closer, partner. Don't let it get to you now."

"But damnit, Starsky! What if we're already too late?"

"This ain't the time for 'what if's, Hutch. You just let me know when we get to McCaw street and then we'll find that friend's house. We'll take this one step at a time."

Stacy was not at her friend's. She had been expected for the evening, that had been true, but the girls had never had plans for the day.

Hutch watched Stacy's friend, Amy, answer their questions and found his frustration growing by the minute. Like other fifteen-year olds, she tried to cloak herself with an air of maturity beyond her years. With her parents nearby, the girl answered their questions with overflowing surprise and unconvincing innocence. Stacy? Lie? Whatever for?

Hutch had an overwhelming urge to grab the teenager by the shoulders and shake the truth out of her. When Starsky placed a calming hand on his arm he realized he was wearing his emotions on his sleeve so he took to the sidewalk outside and strode away from the house, needing to move.

Just like a damned rookie! he thought in disgust, feeling his strides becoming longer and longer as he fought to burn up his frustration. He forced himself to stop after half a block and pace back to the Torino.

No self discipline. Too impatient. Too emotionally involved, he savagely ticked off the list of his faults. Everything that we're taught not to do the first week at the academy. He was angry and embarrassed at his own reactions, knowing that he was slowly losing whatever control he had. What the hell is wrong with me? Is this what it's like to have a nervous breakdown? When did I start losing it? And what are these visions I've been having? Hutch felt queasy even thinking about them. No time for this. No time, to worry about it, a strangely detached part of him insisted. What if this was all for nothing? What if Stacy is already gone? What if she needs you now? Why didn't you-


Starsky was jogging out of the house toward the Torino and Hutch wasted no time in taking up the passenger seat. "Where is she? Is she okay?" he demanded.

Starsky looked grim as he started the car and put it in gear. "You know a place downtown called 'Manhattan Modeling'?"

"No. Is she there?"

"Supposed to be." Starsky gave Hutch a quick glance. "I got the directions, and we'll be there in about ten minutes." He pulled out sharply enough to make Hutch grab for the dash. "Stacy's gone in for some modeling. No one is supposed to know about it, but she's been using Amy as a cover."

"Modeling? What kind of modeling?"

"Well, Amy sure as hell wouldn't admit to it," Starsky answered a bit distractedly, weaving his way through traffic. "But I'll bet you a hundred bucks that the reason grandma doesn't know about this job is because it ain't about modeling frilly dresses."

"It never ends, does it," Hutch said with disgust. "We've seen it too many damn times already."

"Hopefully she hasn't gotten any deeper than some revealing undies with dirty old men for photographers. But whatever she's doin' I think it's about time someone got her out of it."

They were quiet for the few remaining minutes of the trip. It didn't take them long to find the building they were looking for. It was a large, two-story brick building that had seen better days. It looked like a remodeled warehouse, with few windows at the sides and large picture windows at the front. There were several young ladies waiting in front for a bus and the parking lot looked fairly full. Starsky pulled past the building and parked down the street, giving Hutch a chance to scan the faces of those waiting out front. No Stacy.

They obviously have enough customers for their modeling classes to keep in business, Hutch thought as they made their way down the sidewalk. I guess it could be legit. Maybe she was just afraid that Grandma wouldn't want her in front of a camera even for some real work. Another quick scan of the crowd, a negative shake of the head to his partner and both men turned toward the front door.

The front entrance of 'Manhattan Models' told Hutch just how 'reputable' a business it really was. It was filled with cheap, second-hand furniture, and brochures were plastered over the walls with no effort to clean up the rag-tag bits of paper left over from older postings. It was crowded with women and girls of various ages, some probably there for job interviews, some for classes.

She's got to be here! He felt almost frantic now, not seeing Stacy anywhere. We're so close! So close!

One busy receptionist gave them a strange look as they followed two women through a door into what a was labeled as the classroom area, but no one made any move to stop them.

Finding themselves in a door-lined hallway, they moved to the nearest one and peeked in through the door windows. The large, gym-size room was full of what looked to be students practicing different runway walks.

"So far," Starsky whispered, "everything looks legit. See her yet?"

"You'll know when I do."

Hutch pushed away from the door and turned to the doors behind them. Taking the first one, he opened it and checked inside, oblivious to the stares and questions from those he interrupted. Backing out quickly, he moved to the next door in line and found another class in session. He moved swiftly, checking each room on his side of the hallway, taking only enough time to make sure Stacy wasn't inside before moving on to the next.

At the end of the hall they found a back door to the parking lot and a set of stairs behind another door marked 'private'. They took no time at all to get to the top, finding a second hallway and another set of doors.

Taking the right side, Hutch opened one door after another, ignoring the startled shouts, shrieks and angry words his progress caused. He soon found that the 'modeling' on this floor was of a more adult nature. All of the ladies he had seen posing in the rooms were scantily dressed, but looked old enough to consent to what they were doing.

And from what commotion he could hear from the other side of the hallway, Starsky was finding the same thing he was.

Feeling his heart beating furiously as he sped up his pace, he knew it wouldn't be long until building security tried to stop them. If they had to bluff or fight their way past security or bodyguards, he was afraid they'd lose precious time.

Damn! Only three more!

Hutch threw open the next door and was ready to move on, seeing that the room was empty of all but lighting stands, background canvasses and props.

He gasped in sudden pain. My hand! It felt as if the door knob in his hand had frozen to his skin. It lasted only an instant, gone as soon as he pulled suddenly stiff fingers from their grip. What the-?

Softly the sound moved past him, freezing him in place as it captured his attention.

Straining, he heard it again, the choked, muffled cry that came from a hidden place. Shutting the door carefully behind him, he moved toward the faint noise. As he drew closer he realized she was somewhere under the disorderly pile of background canvases.

Squatting at the corner of the pile, he carefully lifted an edge. Underneath, curled miserably upon herself, he saw a scared, make-up smeared little girl with grey-blue eyes, strawberry-blond hair and a face he would remember forever.

"Stacy?" he asked softly. He stayed still, not wanting to frighten her.

"I...I'm sorry," the watery voice answered fearfully. "I just...just wanted some privacy."

"I know." He gave her a small smile. She appeared nearly nude, with knees drawn up, arms hugging them tightly to her chest. Hutch could only see a filmy, translucent fabric at her shoulders. His newfound relief turned to anger at what must have gone on. You're safe now, Stacy. I'm gonna make damn sure you stay that way!

Removing his jacket slowly, giving her time to take in the gun and holster, he held it out to her. "I'm Hutch. It's okay, I'm a cop. I'm here to take you home."

Taking the jacket tentatively, she draped it about her shoulders, looking even younger as it dwarfed her frame.

"Jimmy isn't mad anymore?" She asked, voice quavering. "I told him he could keep the money, if I could just go home. But he said he wouldn't give my clothes back unless...unless...."

"He won't bother you any more, honey," Hutch answered softly. He held out his hand to her, palm up and offering. "I promise. Let's go home now, okay?"

She drew in a deep, fearful breath. "But she'll know! Grandma'll know!" New tears of panic and shame appeared as the girl rubbed once more at the smear of makeup on her face.

"And she'll still love you," he answered with confidence. "No matter what happened, Stacy, your Grandma will love you. And she needs you, just like you need her."

He moved a little then, just enough to hold his open hand a bit closer.

Sobbing, she finally reached for his hand. Hutch pulled them both to their feet in one swift motion. He held the small, trembling bundle tightly.

We did it! We did it! his mind sang as he soothed her ruffled hair. He marveled that it had come out right, when so many others had come out horribly wrong. This was what he was meant to do; this was why he stayed a cop even after all it had cost him. Whatever it cost, it was worth it! To save even one!

He didn't know when Starsky had entered the room, but it was obvious from the wide, crooked smile that he had been there long enough. Hutch then noticed the growing commotion drifting in from the hall and realized his partner had been guarding the door.

"Well, aren't ya gonna introduce me?" Starsky asked, eyes dancing with happiness.

"Detective David Starsky," Hutch announced, feeling as proud as a new father, "I'd like to introduce Miss Stacy Collins."


Starsky arrived home in the mid-evening darkness and felt welcomed in the familiar surroundings. Sighing tiredly, he stretched out on his couch, settling in to watch a little TV in the dark. As strung out as he felt, he knew he wasn't going to get to sleep any time soon. There was just too much on his mind.

He and Hutch had been busy all afternoon and on into the evening. The calvary had been called to 'rescue' the three of them from the modeling school. Then Stacy had been reunited with her grandmother while Vice and Child Protection Services had gone to town on the school and its owner. He shook his head at the memory of how the man had gone from bellowing and ranting at the 'attack' on his good name to almost fainting with shock when he learned that a warrant to search the premises for child porn had been issued. And somewhere in there he had even managed to offer Starsky a bribe.

That guy can't fully appreciate how lucky he is. If he had tried making that offer to Hutch, he would'a been turned into compost, he thought wryly. If that jackass thought that Vice and CPA were gonna be tough on him, he oughta be thrilled that my partner was too busy to deal with his hide.

The rest of the day, and evening, had been spent on triplicate reports and a bit of 'catch up' on overdue paper work. Through it all, Hutch had sounded, and acted, as if it had all been a normal day's work.

'Normal' my ass. Starsky frowned at the thought. Nothing about this case has been normal, no matter how hard Blondie tries to pretend it is.

Whenever he had tried to broach the subject Hutch had just looked at him as if he had been talking nonsense.

'Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine. What's to talk about?' Just as if none of these flashes had ever happened. He may be able to convince himself it was all a fluke of nature, a Collandra thing, where he's managed to tap into some sort of natural ESP whatcha-ma-call-it brain power stuff. But I know what I felt. It might have been easy for others to dismiss those horrible touches of evil as some sort of bad dream, but Starsky could not. He couldn't afford to.

Turning wary eyes to the silver bracelet on the table beside him, he watched as it seemed to writhe in the flickering light from the TV. He reached out a careful fingertip to touch its cold, motionless surface, just to prove to himself it was all illusion. He found nothing there besides the expected texture of cold, etched silver.

Evil doesn't give up this easily, he thought worriedly. Whatever it wanted from Hutch, it hasn't gotten yet. I'd have known if it had. So why all the visions, the voices? What will be the price of Stacy's life? What will it want from Hutch for the next victim?

Rubbing at tired eyes, he realized he couldn't afford to worry the night away. He maneuvered his tired body off of the couch, picked up the bracelet and detoured to the kitchen to toss it unceremoniously into the back of the icebox. For some reason, it just seemed fitting, and was as good a place as any to keep it out of sight. Shutting off the TV on his way to the bedroom, he decided to use Merle and the Torino as an excuse for some personal time off. Dobey would probably be pretty upset with him for taking two mornings off in a row, but he wanted to be hard to find before Hutch realized his bracelet was missing. He wasn't sure what his reaction was going to be.

Time for some pointed questions, he decided. The best place to start is with that guy at the antique store. He's the first step in finding out just what that bracelet is. If I can find out who owned it before, where it came from, then maybe I can find out what is behind all this.

Then, whatever he needed to do, he'd do it.


Lijah, once again behind Venice Place, lay curled on scraps of paper, covered by empty boxes from the restaurant dumpster. Even at this late hour he was still wide awake. Too much so.

He and Charles had both admitted that the current turn of events had taken them by surprise. It was not so much the fact that the talisman was now harmless, or that it had happened so soon, but the rescue of the girl without the price being paid had been unsettling. They did not usually give up so easily and neither he nor Charles had any hope that they would.

I'm getting too tired for this, he decided. I'm missing something important, something I wouldn't have missed when I was younger. The body is still willing, but the mind is weak. And the soul...?

For that he had no answer. Sighing to himself, he opened one eye, just to check for the comforting shadow among the darkness of the night. He was rewarded with a flicker of movement made by neither man nor beast.

"We're going to lose them, Charles," he whispered sadly, closing his eyes once again to conserve his strength. After all the worry, all the time and effort, all the rules I've come close to breaking and we're going to lose them anyway. I know something is going to happen, but I can't figure out what or where. And even if it does, what if I can't help without breaking more rules? Can I just walk away and let it happen?

He had done so too many times before, had walked away and let things unwind as they would. Sometimes it happened to their favor, sometimes it did not. But the losses never got any easier.

{{What is meant to be, will be, Lijah,}} Charles whispered from the darkness, knowing what he was thinking without being told. {{Rest. This isn't your fight or your responsibility. Never was. You need to let them go.}}

"I don't know if I can, Charles, I just don't know if I can."


Hutch was having a bad morning, and the fact that he was having it alone didn't help matters any.

He had been awakened by the phone with a loud and angry Dobey on the other end. Already an hour late for work, it had been all he could to mumble vague apologies and try to shower and dress in record time. Forget any breakfast or even the small luxury of coffee. The LTD had been as thick-headed as he was and after several false starts he had arrived to find Dobey waiting with an armload of case files for him.

Having the files literally dumped into his arms, and receiving a stinging lecture on promptness, Hutch had barely caught on to the fact that he was going to be without a partner for awhile. Dobey had added a few choice words about Starsky and that 'pain in the ass' Torino to his lecture as he left, so Hutch assumed Starsky was making a trip to Merle's again.

Gee, thanks for the warning, partner. Hutch abandoned the untidy pile on his desk and headed for the coffee machine. Nothing like getting a public dressing-down for something that was only half my fault. Why didn't you tell me you were going to take the morning off? I'm only your partner after all!

Getting his first cup of coffee for the day, ignoring the normal hustle and bustle of the squad room, Hutch eyed the stack of files wearily. Even after they had stayed late last night, they still had a mound of paperwork to do.

Well, at least I can take my pick of the litter, he decided firmly. If I had to suffer through that whole lecture, publicly and by my lonesome, then Starsky can just weed through the hard ones later.

Sitting down in his chair, he solved his first problem by shoving the mass, very carefully so as not to spill it, onto his partner's desk.

He winced as he took a sip from his cup, both at the bitter taste and what was in the files. Routine arrests, routine reports, all needing to be typed out and signed. And only one of these is ours. Looks like we're going to have one of those days. He yawned and set the cup down to check his watch.

Two hours, and a few dozen files later, Hutch found himself checking the wall clock once again. Sometime during those two hours, mild curiosity had turned to vague worry. Would it really have taken this long for Starsky to set up car repairs with Merle? Why was he feeling so uncomfortable about his absence?

I'm getting to be an old mother hen, he chided himself mildly. It's not like the guy has to check in with me every time he makes a move. He's probably just shooting the breeze with Merle about that over-priced, costly, high-maintenance cash-hog of his. And he probably knew darn well Dobey wouldn't take another morning 'off' after calling in sick yesterday, even if we did come down with a good bust.

Even as he tried to convince himself that he really wasn't all that worried, the feeling that something was wrong grew just a bit. He looked down at the current file in front of him, not really seeing the contents, not really caring what it contained. All he could think about was Starsky and the fact that he hadn't heard from him. It didn't feel right.

Picking up the phone, he dialed Merle, hanging on for long minutes while one of his employees pulled the irritated and sputtering man out from under his current project. Hutch was not surprised to find that his partner had not been around Merle's that morning, nor had he called and set up an appointment.

So, he's fed Dobey a line and I've fallen right in with it. If he had something going on, why didn't he give me a 'heads up' that he was going to be late. Why didn't he just tell me last night? He glanced again at the wall clock.

Replaying the previous evening in his mind, he couldn't think of anything Starsky said or done that would have let him know something was up. They had worked a lot, eaten a little and had hardly talked at all. Starsky had taken him home, had come in to use the john, and left.

So, what- He started suddenly, a jolt of fear running through him like quick lightening, leaving just the memory of a split second's panic. What?!!

Eyes and senses on sudden alert, he scanned the room for danger. Everyone was acting normal, nothing had changed from the moment before. It took him a second to realize that he, himself, had a death grip on his own wrist. Apparently he had gone to rub the silver circlet, not realizing he had not put it on.

Where the hell is it? I didn't put it on?

Thinking frantically, he remembered taking it off last night as he was talking with Starsky. Then this morning, in a hurry to get to work, he had grabbed all the items in his dresser and stuffed them into various pockets while on his way out of the door.

He knew now, with a sickening certainty, that the bracelet had not been with the other items. He knew who had taken it. On his way out of the squad room and heading for his car, he never gave a thought to the abandoned files scattered on both of their desks, nor what Dobey would say about his disappearance. He didn't even ask where he was going or why. The fear that clenched his gut told him much more than his rational mind wanted to know.

Damn it! Why would he do that? Doesn't he know that it's my problem?! It's too dangerous!!

Making record time to the LTD, he threw himself into the driver's seat. He was ready to put the keys in the ignition when the world itself started to warp. Drawing in a deep breath, he gripped the steering wheel tightly.


The world flickered, lines became crooked and soft, as if everything in existence was melting and flowing into itself. He was once again floating in emptiness.

But there was a warmth nearby, the contrast of it making everything else seem cold and empty. He found that he recognized the heat, felt a flicker of fear when he realized it was not as close as it should be. He sought the source.

Reaching out toward the intimate, he grew frantic for the connection. Where was he? Where was Starsky? He pushed further, harder, desperate now, could almost--.

{{Noooooo!!!!}} came the angry cry.

The force of the sound and emotion pushed him away from where he needed to be.


Hutch gasped, could feel himself trembling. He tried to remember where he was, why he wasn't where he was supposed to be. He was in his car and it took a moment to remember the reason he was there. Starsky's angry and frustrated bellow rang in his head. He...he's in trouble! I'm too late! Too late...

The slight shake of his hands on the steering wheel was matched by the churning of his insides. Starsky was in the middle of something wrong, he was in pain, and he needed him.

I've got to find him before...before... He pounded the steering wheel, hissing at the pain it caused, using that to stop the panic growing within him. I can't think about this now, damnit! I can't waste time. I've got to think!

Fumbling for the keys he had dropped on the floorboard, he found himself turning the worn car into the thick afternoon traffic without even knowing where he was going. Calling in an 'Out of Service - Personal' code that would keep him out of official sight for awhile, Hutch completed the act by turning the radio off.

Damn it! He went to investigate the bracelet without me! Hutch was growing angry and he embraced the emotion. Anger was better than fear, and he needed it to keep his head clear. That jerk! When I find him I'm going to shake some sense in to him. It's just like him to jump into something dangerous, and alone at that. But where is he?

He already knew where Starsky would go. Where else would he start but at the place where the bracelet was purchased? Hutch was not surprised to find himself heading in the right direction.

Unless, he thought reluctantly, he's been digging around longer than I think he has. Maybe he didn't trust me enough to tell me what he's been doing. And maybe he was right. He cringed at the thought.


Lijah felt the first stirrings of panic, a feeling he hadn't had in many, many years. Things were moving too fast now. Outside of Metro he leaned against the wall, and thought furiously.

"I don't know what they're up to. Don't know what they're doing. But whatever it is, is has already started."

{{I know, I saw.}}

"I need to do something. But what can I do without it all coming down around me?"

{{Call in the troops?}}

"With the Shredder. You're right. I can do that from here."

{{The material is all right there in front of them.}}

"Right beneath their noses." Lijah agreed. "They'd discover it all in a few days time, so why not nudge them a bit. Start that ball rolling."

Lijah felt a bit calmer then. This wouldn't be as dangerous as any of the other things he could do. Things that he wasn't supposed to do. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and started.


"Sorry, Detective Hutchinson." Randolph Thomas shook his gray head, pushing his heavy black glasses further up on his nose. "I wasn't at the store for the morning shift and haven't seen your partner at all. My assistant was here, but he's gone for the day."

Hutch tried to keep his disappointment from showing. "Mr. Thomas, if my partner was here this morning, he would have been after the same information I am. I need to know about the bracelet I bought from you a few weeks ago. Do you remember it?"

"I'm fairly sure I do, Officer," Thomas replied, looking at him with growing concern. "Was there a problem with it? Are you unhappy with the sale? If you are, I'm sure I can--"

"Oh, no," Hutch interjected quickly. "I was happy with the bracelet, but there is some question about its history. We just need to know some more information for a possible connection to a case we're working on."

"Oh, dear! I can assure you that I run a respectable business!"

"I can see that." Hutch smiled tightly, hoping it was enough to calm the man. "We want to trace the piece back a bit and see where it came from. You just happen to be the last to have handled it." Hutch kept the smile and shrugged casually.

"I see." Thomas seemed to mull the information over and nodded to himself. "Let me go and check my books. I'll see what I can find for you."

Hutch soon found himself pacing in front of the long glass counter. Even the fine artwork and unusual items that filled the shelves in front and behind him failed to hold his attention for more than a few seconds, the sound of Starsky's angry outcry echoing repeatedly in his head.

I've got to get better control, he decided, feeling more and more jittery as time wore on. Thomas has only had a few minutes to dig through his books, and here I am wanting to rush in there and make him look faster. I'm not going to get anything done by looking the fool or scaring him off.

He bit his lip and returned to the counter, determined to keep his anxiety firmly under control. Just as he was ready to go after him, Thomas appeared from behind the office door with a large ledger book in hand.

"Actually, Detective, I think your partner probably was here this morning. This book was on top of the cabinet, which isn't where it was supposed to be. That's why I had such a hard time finding it." Thomas shrugged apologetically and held the book up higher. "I assume my assistant took it out to look for the same information, and neglected to put it back."

"Can I see it?"

"I'm afraid it wouldn't do you any good," Thomas replied with a small smile. "It's the incoming inventory book for that month, and I'm afraid I use my own form of shorthand when it comes to bookkeeping." Despite his words he handed the book over to Hutch, who set it on the counter and realized the man was right. The writing was all gibberish to him.

"The bracelet entry is right here." Thomas continued, pointing to a long, illegible entry. "I bought the bracelet from a local auction house just a few weeks before you purchased it. I remember bidding on that box, as it contained various items of jewelry items that really had no intrinsic value and didn't draw any other bidders. In fact," he continued proudly, "I was quite pleased with the purchase price."

Hutch noted the numbers to the right of the notation. If that, in fact, was the amount the man had paid for a whole box of jewelry, then Hutch's purchase alone had netted the man a handsome profit.

"Where did they get it from?"

Thomas shrugged. "Could have been from anywhere. Would you like the address of the auction house?"

"Yes, please." Hutch pushed the book back to the owner. "I would also like the phone number and address of your assistant. I might want to ask him a few questions." He smiled, trying to make the request sound casual. "Our Captain likes to see that we've spoken to everyone."

"Certainly, let me get that information for you."

As soon as the store owner had left, Hutch could almost see time slow before his eyes and knew he was in trouble. He leaned heavily on the glass counter, barely registering the smooth surface against his palms before he felt the world twist and lost all sense of himself.


The world contorted, flowed and disappeared beyond his view. Nothing really mattered here, nor did it have meaning. He had been here enough to understand that now, so he quit trying to make sense out of nothing and reached for the what he needed to find.

The warmth, familiar and important, was what he sought. He spread himself out, into the eddies, hanging on tightly to each part of himself as he spread through this existence. His whole being trembled when he came across a wisp that he knew.

Pain exploded in his chest, anger and determination flowing beyond it. It all disappeared as quickly as it was found.



Hutch came to himself, gasping for breath. His weight was held up by the cool, smooth counter he was lying across. Gathering himself quickly, he shook his head and glanced up at the office, pulling himself off of the case glass. His chest burned sharply and he wondering for a second if he had broken the glass and cut himself. He stood shakily and rubbed at the sharp pains, eyes confirming that the countertop was still whole and unbroken and there was no blood on his shirt.

It's not me, Hutch realized as the residual pain faded with the passing seconds. Starsky's pain. His anger. His determination not to reach out. His partner had pushed him away, hadn't wanted him to know what was happening.

He's hurt, like knife cuts! Hutch found his hands in fists, the anger and fear at the thought screaming at him. I've got to get to him, damn it!

Thomas came out of the office, smiling and holding a small slip of paper. "Here you go. The address of the auction house and the name of the auctioneer you wanted."

He tried to keep from yanking the paper from the man's hand. "Thank you," he said, taking the time to dig out one of his cards. "Please leave a message for me at this number, if my partner should happen to come by or you find something else out about that bracelet."

"Of course."

Before he realized it, Hutch was back in the LTD, scrubbing hard at his chest. He debated on whether to call the auction house and decided against it. He didn't want to forewarn anyone of his arrival and needed to talk to the employees face to face.

Damnit, Starsky! he thought savagely as he threaded through the traffic. You hang on! Quit trying to keep me out of this! I'm already too far gone in this to be protected. He thought ruefully of how Starsky must have thought that taking the bracelet would keep him away from whatever it was that had literally haunted him.

Guess I would have done the same, Hutch decided, trying to keep his speed down and his concentration on the road. Good thing it didn't work, partner. I'll find you yet. Just hold on!


Starsky stood bare-chested, bruised, bloody, and shackled spread-eagle against a plain cement wall. A bright, harsh spotlight shone down upon him, making him sweat into the cuts that burned across his chest. He tried clenching his fists over and over again to keep the circulation going. If he was going to have a chance on getting out of this, he didn't want numb hands to slow him down.

He had no memories of the time between collapsing in a drugged stupor at the antique store and awakening half undressed and chained to a wall. He had taken the offered cup of morning coffee from Randolph Thomas as a goodwill gesture, waiting for Thomas to look through his records for the origins of the bracelet. The coffee had tasted normal, and it wasn't until his vision blurred and he felt himself falling that he had realized just how foolish he had been.

An unknown amount of time later, the agony of strained wrists and shoulders had pushed him into consciousness. He had been blinded by the searing light, and it had taken several minutes before his streaming eyes cleared enough for him to see well. There hadn't been much around to tell him where he was, just him, the light and a vast darkness beyond. Since waking up, he had had little to mark the passing minutes but the arrival and departure of his lone tormentor.

The stranger had arrived with a chuckle from out of the darkness after Starsky had tried yelling for attention. He had never seen the man before. Middle aged, normal looking, there wasn't anything about the stranger that would rate a second look from a cop.

Except for his eyes. Starsky had rarely seen eyes as empty as those that had scanned him with little curiosity and even less compassion. Even before he introduced himself, Starsky had known what the man was going to say.

"Hello, Detective. I am the Shredder. Welcome to my private world."

The Shredder had punched Starsky then, like a man playing at a punching bag in a gym. He had laughed at Starsky efforts to control his pain, and had turned a deaf ear on Starsky's threats and bravado.

The beating had continued until Starsky had lost count of the blows. Time had passed unmeasured as he tried to control his pain, seeking to command spasming muscles into keeping him upright. As soon as he had been able to breathe again, his tormentor had produced a long, sharp knife. Having clamped down on his instinctive fear, he had refused to show what the sight of the blade did to his insides. As the weapon moved closer to him, he felt himself tremble, but would not lower his eyes. He had gasped, then held his breath, as a very long, shallow cut had been drawn across his chest, clenched his teeth as the action was repeated once, then twice. He had kept his attention on the man's face, even as he felt his own blood run in warm curtains down his torso. The cold sweat of fear had trickled in contrast down his back as his tormentor had paused to look him in the eyes. Those eyes had held boredom, even disinterest, at what he had done to his victim.

Starsky understood then; he was only the bait.

Bait to bring in Hutch.

He could never be that. Not if he could help it.

Closing his eyes for one, brief moment, Starsky had tried to gather the strength, anger and determination to endure what was to come. He had felt it then, as if something alive had appeared beside him. He knew who it was before it touched him, and he tried to block the connection. He could not accept the comfort Hutch offered through this strange power.

Bellowing a protest, he had mentally pushed at the part of Hutch that had found him, feeling Hutch's fear and startlement as he was forced away.

The decision had been easy but the rejection had been hard, and Starsky had found himself troubled at the unnaturalness of it. He would stay here, do what he had to do to survive, even die when it came down to that, but he wasn't going to help them bring Hutch into this.

No way in hell.

Then, as if reading his thoughts, the Shredder had shrugged casually, and turned to leave Starsky alone in the light.

He could not tell how long he had been left alone to sweat and bleed against the wall. As he struggled futilely with the cuffs and his anger toward himself, he wondered if Hutch had really been there in his mind, if he knew now how wrong things had gone.

"Well, Detective, time for something new." The voice from the darkness seemed amused.

"I don't know what the hell you want from me, but you ain't gettin' it, you slime!"

"Really? I've been told you do know what we want. And as for getting it....?" the Shredder stepped into the light with an crowbar. "We'll just see what happens, won't we?"


Later that afternoon, too many hours later, Hutch knew he was running out of time. Parked in front of an older, dilapidated house, he was bone tired. Feeling the hard surface of the steering wheel under his palms, his forehead resting on the back of his hands, he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind.

He had gone to the auction house and had paced the floors like a tiger. It had taken every bit of self control to act casual, play nice and sweet-talk the auction clerks into digging into their files for the information he needed. Hutch had felt as if he had given an Oscar performance, managing to be charming enough not to cause hard feelings, and persistent enough to make them decide that humoring the flaky cop would be the easiest way to get him to leave.

The seller's name was Edna Bright. Hutch had tried her phone number from the auction house and found it had been reassigned to a new customer only a week or so before. The address left on the information card had led him to a house that looked as though it had been empty for weeks. With no 'for sale' sign in the front to give him a realtor to go to, he had carefully jimmied a back lock and had searched the house for any scrap that would give him a clue to his next move.

There had been nothing left inside, and the neighbors seemed to know little about the elderly woman who had lived there. It was as if every detail about her had disappeared when she did.

Well, she had to get her groceries from somewhere, had to have had a car or someone to drive her, he sighed. But where do I start? I guess I'm left with the Motor Vehicle Department and court house records to dig through. That would take me days. And even then, there may not be anything more in the records than the fact that she lived at this address.

There were other ways he could track her down, but even then it would take too much time. And there was no guarantee that the lady wasn't just the first step in a long line back to the bracelet's origins. If only he knew where Starsky had started his search, then he could find out where he was now.

Where are you, Starsk? Why didn't you take me with you? He mentally winced, knowing the answer. Guess I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, huh, partner? Couldn't have all the answers if I couldn't even face the questions, could I?

He could feel it then, like a creeping, cold fog that seemed to settle around him, almost too faint to be real. Hutch tensed, then tried to relax and let it happen as it had happened before, knowing that it was his only contact with Starsky.

Trembling as the world, once again, seemed to become chaotic and fluid he fought to keep a hold of himself as he fell into the deep, empty cold...


And this time he knew who he was, who he was searching for, and was startled to see what he had failed to notice before.

Cold. Empty. Power. Hatred. Evil...

Some part of him wanted to scream in frustration, seeing it now as his partner had seen it, shame filling him at how blind he had been to miss such a simple truth.

He wasted no time in reaching out from the coldness that surrounded him into the vast nothingness. He thought he understood a little more now, realized that this strange existence was inherently neutral, neither good nor bad, here nor there. He knew what to look for, knew to search for the warmth, the living part of the world that he needed.

In the waves and eddies of this universe, he looked for the one spot that contained his partner. He reached out, bracing himself for what he might find, hopeful that the warmth still lived.

What he touched was anger, frustration, pain and the small kernel of fear that was his partner.

The world righted itself and sorted into a new pattern and Hutch recognized the room. He had seen it before when he had first seen Stacy. He knew instinctively that this was not a future that could be changed, but was a time that existed in the here and now. Like before, he seemed to see in all directions, but not clearly, and his partner was not in sight.

{{He is here, Detective. Can't you find him?}} It was a whisper from nowhere. Hutch knew that voice.

Who are you?! He demanded angrily. Why do you have him? What do you want with me?

{{So sure of your self-worth, are you?}} The Voice chuckled. {{Do you dare to assume that you have any worth to us, that you weren't just a tool to get to him?}}

You can't have him! There is nothing he will give you willingly. And there is no way you can keep me away.

{{No? You don't know what you're dealing with, my dear detective. I am in control here. I decide what I want and what I will take. But you do amuse me. Shall we see what you are made of?}}

Hutch moved then, floating through the room, still without control. The dimly-lit room seemed even larger than it had been before, less like a common area than a private domain. It was obviously built for parties with expensive furnishings for friends and family, not the general public. There was a large set of cabinets before him as he moved toward one corner of the room. He braced himself mentally as he seemed to be thrown into and through the wall.

Behind the wall he was not surprised to find a bunker-like hallway, leading down into the earth with concrete steps and bare bulbs for light.

This is where they die, isn't it? Hutch felt fear flowing from the walls toward him. All of them. Horror surrounded him, wrapped him up in the coldness he had been trying to escape. The stairs ended in pitch-black darkness, where only the outline of a door could be felt more than seen. In half a second he was through the hidden entrance and found himself in a nightmare.

It was a modern day torture chamber. Even in the dim light Hutch could make out the leather straps on odd pieces of furniture, walls of handcuffs, chains, whips, and other things he didn't want to identify. With normal eyes it would have been hard to see any details; the only lights were recessed at large intervals, giving out a weak and garish mixture of white and blood red.

As his vision cleared, he found himself moving rapidly toward a spread-eagled shape against the far wall.

Starsky! He tried to move faster, anger and panic flowing through him like quicksilver. Damn you all! What have you done to him?! What the hell do you want?!!

{{Ahh! That is the question, isn't it?}} The Voice floated close to him now, almost intimate in its tone.

Straining to get closer to Starsky, Hutch could see him clearly in the spot light. He was held up against the wall, almost on tip-toe, trying to keep the cuffs from biting further into his wrists. With his head down to one side, Hutch could barely make out bruised eyes over the swollen, obviously broken nose. Blood and sweat had fallen in rivulets down his face and torso, criss-crossing the bloody wounds on his chest.

Hold on, babe! Don't let them get the best of you! He willed his partner to hear him, to know that he was nearby. I'm on my way, don't you doubt that for a minute. Just hold on!

{{How sweet!}} The Voice sounded amused. {{Your poor partner has only begun to suffer. He's barely gotten started and here you are, trying to be a knight in shinning armor. Do you really think you can come to his rescue in time, Hutchinson? Do you have the arrogance to believe you are good enough to save him?}}

The Voice laughed heartily at the question and Hutch felt the growing fury at the torture his partner had endured. But even as hurt as he was, Hutch knew Starsky was still a dangerous man, and if there was even a shadow of hope that he could fight, talk or force his way out of this situation, he had the internal strength to do so.

{{Eternal hope dies hard, does it not, Detective? Isn't it even more horrible when the strong find themselves weak?}}

Enough! Hutch shouted back, knowing that there was no time for word games, no time for stalling. Whether I'm your target or not, I'm here and I'm a part of this. Tell me what you want!!

{{Oh, not quite yet, Detective. I will set the pace, if you please.}} The Voice sounded smug, and Hutch knew that whatever he could say or do would only prolong its enjoyment.

Ignoring the voice, Hutch turned his attention to Starsky. I'm here, Starsk! You know that, you can feel that. I know you can! That's why you won't call to me, not even mentally, because you knew I could find you that way. You know I'm here! Hutch pushed the thought toward his friend, willing him to know he was near.

{{You'll never find him in time, Detective,}} the Voice snapped, apparently unhappy with losing his attention. {{Do you love him enough to even try?}}

Try? I'd damn well do whatever he needs me to do! Here and now. Try me!

{{Really? We'll soon see, now won't we?}} The Voice laughed, and Hutch knew that whatever was going to happen would happen soon. {{You get what you take, Detective. You get what you take.}} The Voice faded away and Hutch could tell he was now alone. He felt freer now, could almost move on his own when he felt the whirling start again.


Frantically he reached out even as he felt reality twist and fold him away from Starsky. For one fraction of a second he felt as if he were inside his partner's thoughts, could feel the anger and determination which fueled Starsky's mind even as they covered his pain. Searching for the familiar, with no time to even recognize what or how he touched, Hutch reached for the pain that flowed where it shouldn't and grabbed hold.

The maelstrom drowned him then, as he clutched a part of his partner tightly.


The world came back to him slowly. Even before he knew who he was the pain told him there was something wrong. Eyes closed, head pounding fiercely, his face felt as if it had been caved in. He lifted his head up and off of whatever he was lying on, mindful of the pain that shot through him. He choked then, feeling the metallic taste of blood at the back of his throat, and he realized that his hands were also sticky. He opened heavy eyes to see blood smeared across his fingers, on hands that looked strange.

What? Where? Dizzy and confused, he glanced at his surroundings. Hutch's car, he decided quickly, I'm in Hutch's car. But the pain in his face made him concentrate his thoughts. My car. I'm Hutch. He felt strangely surprised at the thought.

Once again his hands came up to his face and he could feel the blood now trickling from his nose. After probing carefully he reached up to turn the rearview mirror toward him, leaning closer to look at the damage while digging out a handkerchief from his pocket. He wasn't surprised at what he saw.

Broken, he decided quickly. He used the handkerchief to staunch the flow and looked again at his swollen nose and blackening eyes. This wasn't mine, this was Starsky's! How can I have...?

He shut down the questions, knowing that there weren't going to be any answers. Whatever had happened to him, it had been as real as this injury, as real as Starsky's pain. If this is what I took from you, buddy, I only wish I had grabbed something worse! But damn, what do I do now?

Head back against the headrest, waiting for the bleeding to subside, he closed his eyes, trying to remember the details of what he had seen. If he had to find out where Starsky was, he was going to have to recall every little detail, every little corner and nook of those hidden rooms.

There was something nagging at him, but it was something he hadn't seen, or shouldn't have been able to know. There was an elderly lady, several blocks down and to the right. Her name was Lucille Amherst and Hutch could picture her clearly. He could see her move, knew her aches, pains and the unending loneliness that had brought her and an equally lonely Edna Bright together as friends.

She's the next step to Starsky all right. I must have given them something they wanted. He wiped at his face one more time and dug through the glove compartment for his sunglasses. Now if I don't scare the poor lady to death, I can find out where Edna Bright has disappeared to.

Settling the sunglasses carefully on the swollen flesh that was masquerading as his nose, he started the car and headed toward the next link in the chain.


Hutch drove through the evening traffic carefully, half afraid that the throbbing in his head would cause him to sideswipe a parked car or come too close to a pedestrian. The pain in his nose and cheek bones hadn't dimmed at all, but still ached despite the aspirin Hutch had found in the glove compartment. At the next stop light he took a moment to check the pale foundation he had spread carefully over the broken nose and the growing bruises under his eyes. The quick stop at a drug store to use their restroom for an impromptu clean-up before stopping off to talk to Miss Amherst had been worth the time, and a hostile glare at the wide-eyed young clerk had quashed any smart-alec comments on his choice of makeup.

Even with that bit of cover, he felt lucky he had not scared her off. She had been a bit shocked to see him at her door, and hesitant to talk to him at first. After explaining that his injury was all in the line of duty, she had fallen all over herself trying to make him feel at home. Miss Amherst had been more than willing to talk about anything he desired. Unfortunately she had managed to drag the conversation out for almost an hour and only reluctantly revealed any information Hutch could use.

Edna Bright had moved here from back east only a few years ago, unhappy with a move forced on her by a hated and un-named nephew. The ladies had regularly met at a park not far from here, but not too long ago Edna had stopped showing up for their visits. Lucille could only believe that the elderly lady's failing health had sent her back to the nursing home. Lucille, being too hard of hearing to use the phone comfortably, had not been able to call and check.

It's the nephew, it has to be, Hutch decided, watching the street signs as he made his way to the address Lucille had given him. If I can find Edna there, she can lead me to her nephew. And the nephew can lead me to Starsky. He worried about his appearance, afraid that he might spook the receptionist.

I wouldn't even let me in to see my own grandmother, he thought sourly.

The Everton nursing home was in the wealthier part of town. The large building had been carefully set apart from any neighbors, surrounding itself with a spacious and well maintained grounds. As he pulled into the large parking lot, he felt even more out of place as he parked his car among the more expensive models. It was a beautiful place and he wondered if one of the many ladies who were out on the grounds with the help of staff was Edna.

Forty-five minutes later he was back behind the wheel of his car, angry with himself, head aching even more. Real bright, Hutchinson! Piss off the clerk and get him to lock up everything you need to know in that damned cabinet of his. I don't have the time to get a godamn warrant!

Edna Bright's file had been closed when the nursing home had been informed that she had passed away at home. And no matter how Hutch tried, they would not open her files, would not give him the name of the relative that had paid for the lady's care. The staff was too well-trained, knew the law too well, and when push came to shove they would not give him what he needed without a warrant.

He sat tiredly in the car and tried to ignore the first hint of twilight. He wasn't ready for it to be that late, wasn't ready to think of what Starsky must have been through since he had last seen him. He didn't know where to go next, knew he should know if he could think clearly enough.

How the hell did you get where you are, Starsk? Who took you there? Who made sure you didn't waste any time walking into their trap? He tried to open himself up, to reach past whatever it was kept him away from his partner. When nothing happened he knew what he needed to do. Okay, whoever you are, I know damn well you're watching me. I've hit another dead end, just like you knew I would. Isn't it time to twist the knife a little more?

The amused chuckle that filled the background as the world once again started to melt seemed to thrum through him. He wanted to pull away from the filthy sound, but relaxed and let himself fall into the void while wrapped in the invisible arms of evil.


This world was dim and bloody, filled with shapes and forms that existed in areas of darkness and the shadows. Hutch knew this place immediately, wasted no time before trying to find Starsky. The blinding white light at the other end of the large room told him where his partner was. He moved toward it, unmindful of the shadowy objects in his way, passing through them as the nothing that he was.

The bright light lit one wall like the sun, bringing into stark view every detail of the battered and bruised body still chained to it. Hutch rolled and flowed toward it, frustrated that his movement seemed too slow, and heartbroken at what he saw.

Ahh, Starsk! He gasped at the mass of bruises, horrified at the extent of the new wounds. Ah, Babe...

Starsky looked like death warmed over as he hung from the chains, his shirtless chest heaving heavily. His normally rowdy curls were plastered to his head now, caked with sweat and blood. But it was Starsky's eyes that Hutch concentrated on. The once broken nose and darkening bruises now looked to be completely healed, which might have been Hutch's doing, but the pride he felt flowing through him was at the strength he saw shining in Starsky's glaring blue eyes.

That's my partner! Hutch crowed, seeing for himself that Starsky was still angry, controlled and infinitely dangerous. In his relief Hutch almost missed the fact that the glare his partner threw out like a hot flame was meant for some real, live person still in the room.

It was the laugh that drew Hutch's attention around to the area behind him. A man was sitting on his haunches deep in the shadows, the glow from a cigarette moving like the crazed eye of a demon off as he flicked the ashes off into the darkness.

"Well, Detective Starsky, looks like we have company once again."

The man stood then and Hutch felt as if he should know him. Tall, medium build, mid-to-late forties, the stranger stepping out of the shadows would have looked completely normal if Hutch had run across him on the street. Dark, longish hair combed in long strands over receding hair line, largish nose, clean shaven and dark-eyed. But the eyes were wrong, empty and cold, as if nothing he ever saw or did could truly touch him.

Hutch somehow moved to keep between the two, watching them both at the same time, an impossible feat for human eyes.

"He's here now, you know." The stranger stepped farther into the edge of the light. He flicked the cigarette toward his prisoner, giggling a bit as it missed Starsky's torso by inches. "I've always liked having an audience. Guess it gets in the blood."

"You have no blood, you stinkin' bag of shit!" Starsky's voice was low and menacing, his flashing eyes not leaving the stranger as he spoke. "Not like a real man. Real men don't murder and cut up little girls. Real men pick fair fights with men their own size. This ain't exactly fair, is it?" Starsky sneered.

"Ahh! I so love a dirty talker." Chuckling softly, the stranger turned and walked back into the darkness toward a low, table-shaped object. Hutch could hear the sound of a drawer being pulled open. "Now, what would your partner say, hearing you talk like that? Or maybe we should just ask him?"

"Yeah, why don't you do that," Starsky responded calmly, apparently willing to use any opening he could get. "Call him up at the station, tell him where I am. He'll be here, soon enough, anyway. I left plenty of clues behind." The stranger didn't stop his search, and Hutch felt Starsky's frustration that even this was not working. "You're gonna be damned lucky if you make it outta here alive, if my partner gets to ya. You stop this now, untie me, and I'll promise you I'll keep him offa you long enough for you to stand trial."

"Trial? What trial would that be?" The stranger seemed to have found what he wanted now and Hutch could hear the sound of slamming drawers echo through out the room. "I'm certainly not afraid of cops. I have my own home guard, so to speak, and am as safe a babe in its mother's arms. As soon as I have finished this project, I can go back to doing what I really enjoy. This is much more fun with the little ones."

"Project? This is all a stinkin' project to you?"

The stranger walked back toward the light's edge, and Hutch could see that he carried something in his right hand. He could also see Starsky recognize the object the exact same second he did. The stranger unfurled it then, letting it unroll like a long, dangerous snake, with the thin, knotted tip falling within the circle of light.

"Actually, it's more of a show. All to entertain your partner, of course. Do you really mean to say that you don't know that he's here, now?"

Starsky didn't reply to this, but Hutch could see that he somehow knew it was true. He could feel what I did the last time. He knows it was me. He's been trying to block me all along! He fought to move closer to his partner, to keep himself between the tormentor and his friend. If I can take the damage from him, then maybe I can keep it away.

When the first stroke hit Hutch wanted to scream with the agony of it. He molded himself closer around Starsky, checking him out, hoping nothing from the blow had gotten through. Starsky had gasped and lurched with the blow, but the bloody welt that should have been left behind had only been a thin, red line that immediately faded.

Hang on, Starsk! Hutch fought to move closer. The second blow rocked him with pain. He heard Starsky groan. This isn't working! Hutch tried to touch his partner the way he had before, tried to reclaim the pain that had gotten through his defenses. He burrowed deep, looking for what was wrong--

{{NO!}} Starsky's mental bellow echoed through Hutch's mind while strong defenses sought to shut him out.

Hutch, surprised by the rejection, was pushed away from Starsky as if he had been shoved. Managing to block the third strike despite the distance between them, he could feel his strength failing at the loss of contact. He tried to grab on to his partner to keep himself in place, deathly afraid he was loosing his grip on this reality, fearful of leaving Starsky alone.


He tried once more to grab on to Starsky, to shield him from further blows.



Somehow, some way, Starsky mentally shoved him away. Losing his grip, Hutch could feel himself fall back into the emptiness. He heard, rather than felt, the fourth blow, and the soft, painful whisper from his partner.

"Find me! I'll hang on!"


Wherever he was, Kenneth Hutchinson hurt. The pain that had started in his face had now spread to his torso and he could feel himself tremble uncontrollably.

STARSKY! His mind screamed, trying to find what had been lost. With the image of his abused partner burned into his mind, Hutch tried to rouse himself quickly. Starsky needed him.

Eyes finally open, he recognized the inside of his car, could feel the seat under his bruised and swollen face. I'm back! Damn! He reached trembling hand up to the burning aches in his body, feeling as if he could pass out even while lying down. He could feel a growing stickiness underneath his shirt.

The whip marks, they're bleeding.

Pushing himself up slowly, he tried to clear his vision and found himself still in the parking lot at the nursing home. Sighing with relief that there was no one near, he settled himself back behind the steering wheel. Pulling his jacket farther open, he would see the wet streaks of blood that marked where he, no, Starsky had been bitten by the whip.

At least I did something right. Closing the jacket painfully, he decided he didn't want to take the time to inspect the damage. He could feel the sting and burn of each of the welts, the tightness of the swelling. He knew he would not bleed to death and hoped he could cover it up enough not to be visible. But the second lash had wrapped over the muscle of his upper right arm, and even now he found he could barely control the fingers of that hand. Now what? I've got to get to Starsky!! If only...If only he had let me in!

Closing his eyes, he opened his mind again, trying to 'remember' the next clue. He knew they wanted him there. But time was growing short. Picturing what little he could see of the tormentor, Hutch concentrated on the man's face. I know him! I have seen him before. But where? Where?!!

Faces flashed through his mind, people he had seen at work. The face was not connected to a cop, and he didn't think he was a suspect or victim. Neither could he remember the man from any of his neighborhoods. He tried to relax more.

There was something, a flicker of recognition. The TV! He's someone famous. That would fit the house and the money. An actor? He grabbed at the faint picture in his mind. He was interviewed, was talking about...about... He gasped then as it came to him. His movie! He's a producer here at the studios, and his name is...is.... He smiled then, even though it hurt terribly. He could 'see' where Starsky was being kept, knew who the house belonged to. Marvin T. Reynolds, producer at 'Signal Films'. His address is up in the northern hills, the mansion at the very top.

Hope filling his chest, Hutch reached towards the radio. He needed to get police backup and an ambulance rolling toward the mansion and was ready to lie his ass off to get them there. Starsky's life was too important to leave to his care alone. But as he reached for the radio, he faltered, suddenly unsure as to what it was he had wanted to call Metro about.

Pulling his hand back from the radio, it was like a switch had been flipped and he realized what was happening. So, there was more cost to this clue than just torture. If I try to call for help, I'll forget where I'm going, and why it's so important. Looks like I'm the only player allowed in this game.

Refusing to dwell on what he couldn't change, Hutch started the car and carefully pulled out of the lot.

Hang on, buddy! Don't you give up, 'cause I'm on my way!

Hutch made quick time across town, but it still wasn't fast enough to beat the setting sun. He wanted to race to the mansion, to fly through the traffic, but had been fearful of being pulled over and losing his memory. If any cop saw him now, they'd stuff him in an ambulance and call Dobey to meet it. He couldn't take that chance.

The house he was looking for sat on the side of the hill exactly as it had in his 'vision'. It was a stark, white blot in the night, visible here and there through the hillside forest. The grounds were large and placed well away from the closest neighbor, a luxury of the rich and prestigious.

As he approached the large, wrought iron gate, he was not surprised to find it opening for him as he pulled up to it. They would, of course, know full well where he was. Hutch could only hope that they had left his partner alone until he could physically join the party.

The long driveway curved into a large circle at the front of the house. The center of the driveway was filled with a decorative fountain, and it and the house were softly lit from numerous sources. All the windows of the house were lit, the view making Hutch think of balls, parties and a house full of people. Leaving the LTD by the front entrance, Hutch felt a chill run up his spine at the absolute silence of the place. Despite all the greenery, lighting and welcoming atmosphere, there were no animal or insect sounds. Hutch felt as if invisible eyes were on him, and his own footsteps were monstrously loud.

The massive wooden doors were unlocked and unattended. Moving into a white and blue foyer, he ignored the art and furniture in favor of the two stairways that climbed up the walls to his right and left. That was not where he wanted to go. Walking toward what looked to be a ground floor hallway, Hutch suddenly found himself trembling uncontrollably, and watched in self-disgust as the tile floor seemed to come up to meet him. He fought not to pass out completely.

Shit! I can't give out now! On his knees, he struggled against the dizzy spell and tried to get back up. I'm not that badly hurt! Move, damn it! MOVE!!

He froze suddenly, hearing footsteps coming down the hall toward him. It's not me, is it? This must be part of the game.

Too far off to the side to see who was approaching, Hutch pulled his gun out of its holster. He felt no surprise at the appearance of Randolph Thomas, the proprietor of the antique shop. Of course. I should have known.

"Welcome, Detective. I've been looking forward to your arrival." Thomas smiled at him evilly, not blinking an eye as Hutch painfully raised his gun to target the man's forehead.

"Where is Starsky?!"

Thomas laughed and waved a hand. The gun in Hutch's hand was lowered despite his best effort to keep it in control. "Really, Detective. That is extremely rude, you know. And here you are an invited guest." The extended hand now twisted sharply, and Hutch watched in growing fear as the Magnum fell to the floor from his unresponsive fingers. "But I can understand the lack of civility, considering you're a bit under the weather."

Don't let him know, Hutch reminded himself. Never show fear, or they'll know it's working. Grinning painfully at Thomas, as if he routinely found himself kneeling and helpless before an enemy, he decided he might as wall try talking. "Well, you would have been disappointed if I hadn't tried."

Thomas chuckled. "Yes, I guess I would have."

"So," Hutch began casually, "tell me why. Why are you doing this to us?"

"Not 'who'? You don't ask who we are?"

Hutch shook his head tiredly. "I don't care what you call yourself now. I know what you are."

"But you didn't recognize us at first, did you?"

"No," Hutch admitted reluctantly. He remembered the conversation with his partner, and how he had not wanted to believe what Starsky was telling him. "I didn't."

"Since you think you know 'who'," Thomas continued, moving behind him, out of his sight, "then why ask 'why'?" Hutch tried not to flinch when felt the man lean close to his ear, could feel his breath on his neck.

"We do so because we wish to," Thomas whispered in his ear like an intimate friend, sounding pleased by the subject. "It amuses us. Because you and your partner could be dangerous if you were to continue along your path. Because you need to be nipped in the bud, so to speak. Because, because, because...." Thomas stood and walked back to face Hutch, smiling kindly down at him. "I don't like the way you look."

Hutch saw the blow coming but was unable to move out of its way. He clenched his jaw seconds before the impact upon his broken nose, not wanting to react to the blinding pain. The world swam, then went black. Blinking stars out of his eyes and trying to hear past the buzz in his ears, he found himself full length upon the floor, alone, with the Magnum missing.

At least he could move. Pushing himself back up, he ignored the fact that the sleeve he used to wipe his face came back bloody. It wasn't important. At least he could still see. Once on his feet, he gave himself half a second for the twitches in chest, shoulder and arm muscles to subside. He flexed his right hand and stretched both arms out in front of him, needing to loosen them up from the swollen tightness of the wounds.

Thomas was not in the hallway. Hutch tried to move swiftly, ignoring the many doors that lined the walls. He wanted to be underground, certain that the end of the hall was the correct way to go. The door at the end opened up to red carpeted stairs and an expensively decorated stairwell. Almost tripping down them in his haste, Hutch stepped into to the room.

The party room. Stacy was here, Starsky is here.

He moved as quickly as he could, remembering this mansion-sized room as it had been filled with various men and one frightened girl. He wondered how many of those party-goers had participated in the murders, wondered how far and deep the evil had gone. Coming upon the cabinet that contained the secret passage he paused.

I can't go in empty handed.

There wasn't anything he could see to use as a weapon, and he didn't have time to search. Going to the bar, he grabbed a bottle and smashed it, grateful for the sharp and glittering edges on the broken end. Back at the cabinet, he pushed at the hidden button he shouldn't have known was there and stepped back as the whole wall unit slid aside to expose the stairwell.

Hutch kicked open the bottom door, trying not to notice the effort it cost him. The blood-red lights only forced his attention to the spotlight and his partner.

Starsky was there, chained to the wall as he had seen him in the visions. Hutch took a step towards him, only to stop when he noticed the outline of a man between them. He turned to face the dark form, knowing who his target was.

"I'm here, Reynolds! Stay out of my way because I'm taking him home!"

"About damn time!" Reynolds called to him disgustedly. "This was getting old. Not my thing, you know?"

"Then I'll show you my thing," Hutch grated angrily, moving forcefully toward the tormentor.

Reynolds didn't move, only laughed as Hutch advanced, bumping in the darkness against unseen obstacles. With only a short distance left to his target, Hutch raised the broken bottle, preparing to use it against whatever advantage Reynolds might have.

The enveloping bolt of pain was silent and sudden, lacing across his body as if he had stepped into an unseen web of razor sharp wire. NO! I can't stop now!

Fighting against it, his last memory was of attempting a desperate leap toward his target, trying to reach him with the jagged edges of the bottle.

Then there was nothing at all.



Starsky listened for a response, cursing again the hot spotlight that made him blind to the rest of the room. The last thing he had heard from Hutch was the sound of glass breaking as a body fell. Now there was no sound but Reynolds' soft and evil laughter.

"What did you do to him, you son of a bitch!!"

"Didn't do a thing. Didn't have to," Reynolds replied with a grunt. "Told you I was untouchable, didn't I?"

Starsky heard the man grunt again and the sound of a body being dragged across the floor. He blinked, trying to clear the glare from his eyes as he saw Reynolds walking backwards into the circle of light, dragging a limp and unconscious Hutch by the legs.

Starsky watched as Reynolds maneuvered Hutch up close to him, then struggled to sit the unconscious man up against the wall. Starsky was stunned at Hutch's appearance.

I knew he was taking the pain from me, knew it would affect him, but I didn't realize...!

The broken nose that Starsky had felt 'healed' earlier in the day was mirrored back at him from his partner's face. Both of Hutch's eyes were black and puffy, the base of his nose swollen and distorted, and blood was caked and drying under his nostrils. He could see where Hutch had tried to hide the bruising with some sort of make up, which meant that the injury had happened some time ago. And through the gap of the partially open jacket he could see a blood-soaked shirt.

Ah, shit! He knew how and when Hutch had gotten those.

Reynolds laughed as he straightened, then gave Hutch's unconscious body one hard kick. "Maybe this'll be fun after all."

Starsky clenched his jaw, forcing himself to stay quiet.

"Maybe we can see what that sharp glass Hutchinson brought in with him would do to that face," Reynolds said with amusement. "What do you think, Detective Starsky?"

Starsky kept his eyes lowered. He couldn't afford to challenge Reynolds with Hutch in such a dangerous position. He was too afraid of what Reynolds would do.

Reynolds only laughed louder and turned to go back to the darkness.



He knew that word, knew it was important to wake up, but he didn't know if he could. Fighting to open one eye Hutch closed it again swiftly against the painfully bright light.

"Hutch! Hutch?!"

The concerned, distant voice stirred him into movement once again, and he raised a shaking hand to shield his eyes. His found himself propped up against a wall. Next to him was one well-worn tennis shoe that Hutch had seen a million times before, only this time there was a metal cuff at the ankle. He pushed himself dizzily up to his feet, and looked into Starsky's weary eyes.

"Guess I blew it, huh?" Hutch whispered, feeling very much the fool.

"You look like shit," Starsky replied softly, the hint of a smile playing about his features. "Guess I'll let you off this time, Lone Ranger, since Tonto ain't doin' so hot himself."

Taking quick inventory of Starsky's condition, he was relieved to see that there was only one welt from the whip. Starsky was trembling with the effort to keep himself upright against bruised and tired muscles, but he was alive. They still had a chance.

"Want the key?" Reynolds asked from the darkness. "Come and get it. Let's see how far you get this time."

Hutch could hear the jingle of small keys behind the evil chuckle. He cursed silently at the bright light. There was no way to know what Reynolds had as a weapon this time. With a sinking feeling, Hutch remembered that the man wouldn't necessarily need one, not if Reynolds could drop him at will.

"No," Starsky answered Reynolds firmly. Hutch looked at his partner, could see the determination. "We're not playin' any more games. Do what you're gonna do."

"He's right." Randolph Thomas replied from the depths of the darkness. As Hutch had guessed, he hadn't gone very far. "We're just wasting time."

"So I'll finish with them both." Reynolds stepped closer and Hutch could see the glint of sharp, shiny metal. Holding the large carving knife up so that his prisoners could get a better look, Reynolds laughed as he watched their faces. "Looks like Hutchinson gets to be first, since Starsky seems to have a ring-side seat."

"Actually...," Thomas took several steps forward, "I have a different show planned for tonight." As he moved into the light, they all could see the Magnum was pointed at Reynolds.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Reynolds bellowed as soon as he saw the gun. The man's face flushed red with anger, then drained pale from fear. "You crazy?!! I'm untouchable! You promised me that!!"

"I lied."

The shot rang out like a huge explosion as the sound waves bounced crazily, covering the sound of Reynolds' body as it was blown backward and out of sight. Hutch had only started to move toward Thomas when he found the gun pointed in his direction.

"Well, Detective. Looks like you've saved the day by tracking down and shooting the Shredder. It's tragic, really, that you didn't arrive in time to save your partner."

"I'm not leaving without him," Hutch grated through clenched jaw. He moved slightly, making sure he kept between Starsky and the gun. Hutch knew that his gun was more than powerful enough to put a single bullet through both him and Starsky, but made the gesture anyway. "You know that."

"Down to brass tacks, then. I'm getting tired of this." Thomas moved closer. "Time we talked."

"Talk? We don't make deals with criminals." Hutch took a step forward, eyes holding Thomas' gaze. "You should know that by now."

"Well, this isn't so much of a deal, as it is a business proposition." Thomas smiled slightly. "You've enjoyed the little... 'enhancements' we have afforded you, have you not?"

Hutch nodded reluctantly. There was no use denying where the visions had come from or that some tragedies had been averted because of them.

"So, some good has come from those powers, regardless of the source." Thomas shrugged, but the movement did not affect the aim of the gun. "If we were to get what we're asking for, that would still be true. Even now, I'm sure we can find a way to end this to our mutual advantage. We could all come out ahead."

"No!" Starsky snapped angrily from behind Hutch. "Don't listen to him, Hutch! We're both better off dead."

"What is it you want?"

"It's simple, really," Thomas said casually. "We always need people in interesting positions, to do what we need to have done. Even we must follow certain rules. You would be of great help to us as a detective, now, and maybe a Captain some day. Doing us a favor now and then, earning our --"

"NO!" Starsky yelled, and Hutch could feel his partner's eyes boring into the back of his head. "Say no, damn it! Don't listen to him! I'm not worth what he's offerin'. You--"

"I want to hear him out," Hutch replied softly. He could almost hear the words hit his partner like a blow, could imagine the impact without having to look at him. His eyes were on Thomas. "Tell me."

"Damnit, Hutch--!" Starsky hissed.

"TELL ME THE REST OF IT!" Hutch bellowed, needing to hear what would be the true price for Starsky's life.

"The usual," Thomas replied casually. "Your allegiance. You would be our eyes and ears in the department, give us access to police files and help protect our interests. You help some of our people along the way, a thief here, an embezzler there. You would have to be very discreet, of course. But the arrangement wouldn't be without its perks."

"And you would let Starsky go? Alive and well?"

"He'd be just as free as you to leave this place. Both of you could then claim the Shredder as your prize."

"It won't work," Starsky rasped. Hutch turned then to look at him, could see the anger, and for the first time see a touch of fear, in his eyes. Starsky swallowed tightly. "You go that route, babe, and I swear I'll bring you down myself."


"Damn it! I mean it, Hutch!" Dark blue eyes turned misty now, as they hadn't during this whole ordeal, but they refused to let him go. "The Hutchinson that walks outta here with that kind of agreement is no longer the man I know. Or trust. The first wrong step you make and I'll turn you into I.A. myself, go to court against you if I hafta." The eyes wavered only a moment, then closed against their growing wetness. "I'd rather see you in a hell-hole of a jail cell then see you try to live with what you'd be doing to others." Starsky's eyes opened once again and the look in them told Hutch that this was no bluff.

"An appropriate warning, Detective Starsky." Thomas no longer sounded amused. "There is that problem, of course. But I think we have a way of fixing that type of situation."

"What do you mean?" he demanded, turning again to Thomas.

"We can wipe his memory of you. Of all this." Thomas waved one hand, while keeping the Magnum steady on Hutch. "Detective Starsky leaves here in a light coma, no real damage of course. And he awakens with no memory of himself or of you. Think of the perks, Detective," Thomas continued. "You still would be able to see things before they happened, stop all sorts of needless, horrific tragedies from ever occurring! You would still have that. We would all win!"

"NO!!" Starsky's yell echoed through out the room. "I won't let you!"

Hutch didn't respond, feeling torn and dizzy at the notion. We both could come out of this alive...

Thomas seemed to take his silence as a good sign and continued enthusiastically. "You were able to save a fellow officer, remember? And what about that little boy who ran in front of the Torino? What would your partner's life be like now if he had hit that little boy? Is paying for the privilege of really, truly, helping people so...unreasonable?"

His voice grew serious then. "Think about it, Detective. Nothing in this world comes for free, there is always a sacrifice involved. You saved Stacy, yet you didn't save that other girl, did you? She died because Kenneth Hutchinson thought of himself first!"

"No! That wasn't your fault! Hutch!" Starsky interrupted. "It was that damned bracelet! They set you up, partner, offered you the world then pulled it out from under you when you counted on it. They wanted you to think you failed and to feel guilty about it. She didn't die because of you, she died because of that monster they let loose!"

Starsky's word were fuzzy now, and Hutch felt as if he were swimming in molasses, only able to hear Thomas clearly. He was tired of this, tired of being so useless, so frustrated all the time.

What if? What if? Hutch thought tiredly. A million 'what ifs' and no answers. He knew that truth lay with the trapped man behind him.

Hutch turned once more to his partner, his friend, leaning the short distance to touch his forehead to Starsky's. He needed to do that one last time. "Just like Mateo and Alex," he whispered.

Hutch just had time to see Starsky's eyes widen in understanding. He turned away from his partner and stepped in front of him. Setting his shoulders as firmly as his wounds allowed, facing Thomas squarely.

"You're right," Hutch sighed, taking a defeated step toward the man. "I hadn't thought of that before, but you're right." Moving closer, he shrugged his defeat. "I guess I don't have much choice then, do I?"

"So, you agree?" Thomas asked with a triumphant smile. "Just say the words, and they'll be irrevocable."

"Tell me. Tell me what to say," Hutch demanded thickly.

"Just say 'I give my self, freely, to see to the Master's bidding,'" Thomas sounded a little embarrassed. "Sounds a bit simplistic, but we don't have the time to get too elaborate."

"I, Kenneth...Richard...Hutchinson...." he began, still moving slowly toward Thomas, "give myself freely... to see... you in hell!" Leaping then, eyes on the enormous gun aimed at his middle, Hutch reached for it.

Thunder once again erupted into the room.


Starsky watched in horror as Hutch's body was blown back by the powerful blast, landing at his feet.


Howling out his anger and grief, he tried to throw himself forward despite the handcuffs. He had to get to Hutch, had to get to him, even if it was too late. His eyes scanned Hutch's body fearfully and he froze, afraid to believe what he was seeing.

Hutch gasped and Starsky held his breath while waiting for him to do it again. The blood on the shirt was as it had been before, and the shirt itself looked whole and undamaged. Starsky remembered that he himself should have been the second victim of a bullet that never arrived. He missed! The bastard missed!?!

"Hutch?! C'mon, buddy! Tell me you're okay! Hutch?!"

At the same moment, he heard a loud commotion coming from beyond the spotlight. Listening to the sounds of fighting he could not see, he watched in relief as Hutch blinked and stirred groggily.

There was another shot, and Starsky winced, wondering when the next one would come their way. "Hutch?! You gotta get us outta this! Let's go!!"

Hutch was moving now, trying to bring himself to his feet. Starsky wondered how many times a human could pull himself up like that, and he just prayed his partner had the strength left in him.

"Watch the gun!" he warned as he saw where Hutch was looking. Hutch was upright but wobbly, barely able to stand. Yet all his concentration seemed to be focused outside the area of Starsky's vision.

"I...I think they're both down," Hutch replied roughly. He swayed a little, unsteady on his feet. "I'll check. I'll get the damned keys." He moved, disappearing into the darkness.

Starsky drew a deep breath and held it, trying to concentrate on what he could hear. Talk to me! Tell me what you see! But he bit his lip, refusing to be a distraction. A minute passed, and he could hear Hutch's voice murmur into the silence. There was the sound of movement that he couldn't place.

Starsky couldn't wait any more. "Hutch?"

"Hang on, buddy. I'm coming."

Hutch limped into view, holstering the Magnum with one hand and holding a small set of keys in the other. Coming up to him, Hutch steadied himself with one hand against the wall, then squatted down to unlock an ankle cuff.

"Thomas is dead. That damned knife is stuck in his gut," Hutch murmured while working the lock. "But he got off a shot at Lijah before he went down."

"Lijah?" Starsky whispered in surprise. "What the hell?!"

"Damned if I know." Hutch freed the second ankle. He stood to work on a handcuff. "He's clipped. It took a big chunk out of his side. He's not going to last long. I've got to find a phone."

The first arm was free now, and Hutch carefully lowered it. Starsky found he had no control of it at all. He fought to remain upright as tired muscles demanded some relief. When the second wrist was free, he could do nothing but fall heavily into Hutch's arms. If felt good, even if he couldn't lift his arms to return the bear hug. After a second or two Hutch reached up to squeeze the nape of his neck.

"Come on, buddy. We've got to get some help."

"I'll stay here."

"Starsk? I can't leave you here like this."

"No. I can't walk well. You get to that phone. Get someone down here."

Hutch looked at him uncertainly and Starsky knew that his partner didn't want to leave him, not even to go upstairs. But Hutch would know that he wouldn't lie about not being able to move.

"Okay," Hutch sighed, helping him to sit with his back to the wall. He pulled out the Magnum and placed it in Starsky's lap.

"My hands are numb, you dummy," Starsky said. "How am I supposed to use that thing."

Hutch reached down and wrapped Starsky's swollen left had around the handle, pointing the muzzle carefully out into the room. "So? Bluff." Then Hutch was up and moving into the darkness.

"And find a light switch while you're at it," Starsky yelled. "I'm tired of bein' blind."

Closing his aching eyes, he leaned his head back against the wall. If he couldn't see past the light he could listen. Once or twice, he thought he could hear Lijah trying to catch a breath.

"Hang on, Lijah!" he yelled. There was no reply and Starsky decided he had better do something. Pushing the gun carefully off of his lap, he winced at the movement. He leaned forward, carefully placing numb hands on the floor and tried to push himself up to his knees. Grimacing at the pain that flashed through his ribcage, he fell the rest of the way to the floor. Curling up on his side, he felt helpless as cramps seized his body. Damn! "Hutch is gettin' help. Don't you make him waste a trip, okay pal?"

When there was still no answer, Starsky closed his eyes and tried to relax through the cramps. Maybe, in a minute, he could try to move again. Maybe the old man could hold on long enough for Hutch to make his call.

At least one of us was able to go for help. And there I thought Hutch was dead for certain, with me right behind him. I didn't think there was any way Thomas could have missed him.

Opening his eyes, once again wishing he could see what was going on, he noticed a small piece of metal close to where he was lying. He squinted to see it better, decided he was seeing what he thought he saw.

Hutch had a bullet-proof vest on? It was the only explanation for the deformed bullet that lay before him. It made sense, considering his partner was up and walking around. But it didn't feel like he had a vest on, those things are as bulky as hell. I guess I'm missing more than one thing around here.

He closed his eyes again and waited for the cavalry to arrive.


Lijah lay in the dark, wondering at the power of pain to make a man feel really alive. He knew that there had been little Hutch could do for him, but he had allowed the detective to try to make him comfortable. The pain was bad, but he didn't mind it now. He had heard Hutch leave, had seen the small, careful reunion as the man had unchained his partner, and had rejoiced for them both.

{{Well, we've won one more round, Lijah}} Charles' voice was very weak, as if there was little energy left.

"Yes...we did," Lijah whispered softly. His eyes sought Charles in the encompassing darkness, but there was nothing to see. "But we wouldn't...have won...if you hadn't...stopped that bullet. I didn't know...you could do that."

{{Neither did I. I think we broke a hell of a lot of rules here, you know. But it seemed the least I could do, since you seemed set on going all out for them.}}

"In for a penny...." Lijah breathed. "I just got tired...of the losses. They've done...so much good...." He let the sentence trail off, closing his eyes as he felt the weakness flow through his system. It was getting harder to think now, and all he wanted to do was sleep. "But I almost...screwed it up....came in too late...missed too much...."

{{You did great.}} Charles hesitated a moment, voice softening. {{I'm proud of you, Lijah. I wouldn't change a minute of it, my friend. Not a minute in all these years.}}

"I...would. I would have... saved you."

{{You did the best you could, my friend. That meant everything to me. Still does.}}

A minute passed, maybe two, while Lijah wondered about the changes he could feel happening.

"Charles?" he asked weakly, unsure whether he spoke or only thought the words. "Are you still here?"

{{You know I am,}} the voice chided with amusement. {{Where else would I be?}}

Charles sounded so close to him now, almost as if he were a flesh and blood person. Lijah felt a grip on his shoulder, knowing Charles was using the last of his strength. "Can...Can I...." Lijah gasped for breath now, needing to finish this one, last question. "Can we...go home...now?"

The last thing Lijah felt was the touch moving from his shoulder to engulf his own, useless hand.

{{Hold on, my friend,}} Charles said lovingly. {{It's going to be a wild ride. Ready?}}

Then, between one breath and the next, David Michael Starsky became the sole living person in the room.



Starsky sighed to himself as he struggled to find a better position on his couch. Being newly released after a night of hospital observation, he was pretty certain it would be awhile before he could find a comfortable spot here or anywhere else. Superficial cuts, sprains, scrapes, welts and bruises might not be life-threatening, but they took their own good time in healing.

Could be worse, he decided while snagging the cushions from the other side of the couch. Hutch was still in the bathroom and couldn't complain about him hogging all the pillows until it was too late. I could still be stretched out on that wall.

He shivered at the thought, not wanting to relive those hours. Unfortunately he knew that not thinking about them wouldn't give him a handle on his nightmares and he was sure he was going to have at least a few of those in the future.

Good thing Hutch was okay with staying here. I really wanted to be home tonight, but don't want to be alone. And I don't want him being alone either.

Settling down into the couch with pillows and familiar bathrobe, he left just enough room for his partner. The TV channel was set for the evening and he was too tired to get up and dig around for snacks. If Hutch wanted any, he knew where to find them.

Truthfully, Starsky didn't want to use his hands any more than he had to. Glancing down at them in the flickering light of the television, he would see the white gauze newly wrapped around his wrists. Hutch was good at bandaging and hadn't wrapped them too tightly, unlike the new nurse Starsky had yesterday, who had wrapped him up like she was taping up boxing gloves.

Hutch came in quietly from the bedroom, draped in his orange robe. He also moved slowly and stiffly, even after a hot shower, and looked more than ready to settle in for a quiet evening.

At least Starsky knew he looked better than Hutch did. The broken nose had lost some of its swelling, but the black and blue marks under Hutch's eyes had started to turn all sorts of interesting colors. Starsky also hadn't needed any stitches, unlike a couple of Hutch's welts.

"So, what's on for tonight?" Hutch asked quietly, sounding as weary as he looked.

"Just an old movie. I don't even know what it's about. It starts in a couple of minutes."

"Sounds good."

When they both were arranged to their satisfaction, they sat in companionable silence.

But a half hour or so, Starsky decided that they had to get some business done. "So," he ventured. "Tell me how you came to find Dobey standing at the front door. I missed that part."

He heard Hutch sigh and felt him settle farther down into the couch. "Dobey said that they had found evidence of the Shredder's identity in the files they confiscated from the modeling school. I didn't even have to find a phone, since I could see some black and whites parked out front. All I had to do was open the door."

Starsky chuckled then, snippets of conversation he had heard in the hospital coming back to him. "I heard," he started, smiling as he reached over to nudge Hutch with stiff fingers, "that you scared the shit out of a couple of the rookies. They thought a corpse had just walked out the front door of the Shredder's mansion." He finished with a laugh, picturing the scene.

Hutch groaned, chuckling to himself as he reached up to touch his black, blue and slightly yellow features. "Yeah, well, I sure felt like one. I'm just glad Dobey recognized my car in the driveway and didn't go nuts when I practically fell into his arms. Besides, you weren't looking so hot yourself."

"But what did Metro find in the modeling school bust that told them who the Shredder was?" Starsky wondered, honestly stumped. "All that time they had no clue as to who the Shredder was, then Metro finds enough evidence to wrap the killer up like a Christmas gift? Just like that?"

"Well, I talked to Abe Vernson while you were getting X-rays." Hutch leaned closer. "He said it was the strangest thing, but there was a whole slew of portfolios the modeling school photographers kept of all their under-age models. The books were stacked up on a table in one of the interrogation rooms, and one kept falling off. Vernson was just assigned to that case and was going through all the evidence. He said that every time he turned around, this one book had fallen off of the table. He was just about to toss it back in with the others when he got this urge to leaf through it. He saw the picture of one of the victims."

"So if one girl was in there, the other victims might be too."

"Yeah." Hutch sighed sadly. "The others were in there too. After the Shredder team from Quincy Square got a hold of that, they scared the hell out of the studio owner. He practically had a heart attack right there in the station. Reynolds had been using that book to chose the victims for his snuff parties and it didn't take the studio owner long to spill his guts."

"So Reynolds offered his victims some 'private' work at his mansion, and then picked them up so that no one would know where they went." Starsky sighed. "He probably promised them a part in a movie or somethin'."

They were both quiet for a moment.

Hutch sighed. "What do we tell Dobey about all this? He's going to want to know why you were kidnapped in the first place. And he's not going to be very understanding about why I didn't call in for backup when I found you were missing."

Starsky tried to shrug and winced. "Reynolds knew the modeling school had been raided. He freaked and wanted to grab one of the officers who'd been there. Thought he'd force deal a with me. Then when it didn't work he lured you in. When we both refused to cover his ass he flipped out and was going to kill us. Just tell Dobey you got a call to meet me up at the mansion and didn't have a chance to call for backup."

"But what about Lijah? Where does he come in?"

Starsky paused a moment, wondering about Lijah himself "The truth's all we've got to go with on that one, I guess."

"You mean, we don't have a clue."

As if by unspoken agreement, they were silent for a while, allowing the movie to flow on. Starsky found his mind wandering back to everything that had happened. He glanced at Hutch once in awhile and was convinced that his partner's mind wasn't on the movie either.

"You know," Starsky began. "I was starting to get a little scared that you were takin' Thomas seriously. I only understood what you were gonna do once you reminded me of Mateo and Alex, how one jumped on that bank robber's gun to save the other's life, only the shot took them both out." He watched Hutch and found it troubling that his partner wouldn't look at him. "It was the best way out. Taking Thomas' offer wasn't very tempting."

"No, it wasn't." Hutch bent his head. "I couldn't stand the thought of being forgotten by you, of our friendship disappearing like it had never been. I felt it was better if we both died, rather than let that happen."

Starsky heard the embarrassment and self-chastisement behind the words. "And you think I wouldn't felt the same way?!" He gave Hutch's arm an affectionate squeeze.

"But I should have been thinking of you first. That's what partners are supposed to do, not make life and death decisions for their own selfish reasons."

"Well, we're both human," Starsky said casually. "Big surprise there. And no matter what you may think, partner, I never thought you were perfect." He smiled and waited until Hutch looked up at him. "The fact is, that memory thing spooked both of us. Neither of us would have chosen that option. So I say we count our blessings and leave it at that."

"Well..." Hutch drawled, a small, relieved looking smile on his face, "there was never any way I could accept anything Thomas offered, no matter what it was," Hutch admitted. "No matter what they offered, it all comes down to the fact that-"

"They lie," Starsky finished it for him. "They lie like a rug. They even lie about lying. Can't trust 'em to stick to the rules, tell you the truth, or abide by a contract."

"True," Hutch agreed with a knowing nod. "Very true. I could have agreed to their terms and as soon as I said the magic words Thomas could have shot you, or mangled your brain with that coma, or had you hit by a car on your way to rehab. There wouldn't have been a damn thing I could do about it. I'd be stuck owing the bad guys my soul and you'd be dead anyway."

"Yep. You know, I've always wondered about those guys in the horror stories that made all those pact with the devil. I mean, they were always lied to about what they were going to get by signing up. The whole point is that if the devil wants to renege on the rules, who's gonna stop him?"

"I think Reynolds learned that a little too late."

"Sure did. He sure looked surprised when he got shot." Starsky turned back to the television, giving Hutch one last pat at he did so. "Good thing you had that bullet proof vest on when Thomas shot at you."

"Vest?" Hutch asked in confusion. "What vest?"

Starsky looked at Hutch in surprise. "What do you mean, 'what vest'? The vest that stopped the bullet from your Magnum."

"Starsky, I wasn't wearing a vest," Hutch said, eyebrows drawn up in confusion. "I never had the time, and they wouldn't have let me wear one anyway. Thomas must have missed and I just got thrown back by the force or something."

"Couldn't have," Starsky insisted. "You were right up on him, and I wasn't that far behind. He not only couldn't have missed, but I saw the bullet, there on the floor where you'd been thrown. I thought it had fallen out of the vest when you got up."

"Starsky, I'm telling you, I wasn't wearing one."

They were both silent, and Starsky could tell that Hutch was just as confused as he was. "Well, I guess Forensics would have it packed up somewhere. We could always have them look at it, see if it actually hit the wall."

"Let's not," Hutch sighed tiredly. "I don't think I want to know right now."

"Yeah. Let's just let that special task force worry about that one."

Starsky waited a moment before asking the next question. When he did, he kept his voice low. "Does it scare you? Thinkin' about all this evil stuff bein' real? And out there?"

Hutch didn't reply for a few moments. "Yeah, it does," he finally admitted. "I keep wanting to forget about it, pretend it never happened. Because if I don't, I'll spend all my time worrying that it will happen again." He sighed deeply. "I don't think we're ready to deal with things like that. At least, I know I'm not."

"Me neither," Starsky agreed whole-heartedly. "The streets are bad enough, but that?" He shook his head. "Do you think Lijah was really in on all that? Think he was a good guy?"

"I don't know. But I'd like to think he was on our side. Poor guy deserves some brownie points on the plus side of the ledger, if nothing else. But I did find out from the morgue that the county hasn't buried him yet."

"No known relatives to claim him, huh?"

"Nope. I called and asked the morgue and they said he was released for burial today, but that the county will wait a couple of weeks or so to make sure nobody is going come for him. They don't want to pay for any more burials if they can help it."

"That's really sad, you know," Starsky said. "To go through your life without anybody who cares." He was silent for a moment. "Do you think...maybe...that we could...?"

"He saved our lives," Hutch said. "We owe him for that. Seems the least we could do. Each go in for half?"

"Sounds good to me," Starsky agreed. "I'll call the cemetery tomorrow. They had plenty of spaces open. We can pick out a good one, maybe by one of those benches so he won't be lonely."

"You know something funny? I'm starting to think that maybe Lijah really did have someone to care for him."



"I hope so," Starsky said sincerely. "I certainly hope so."


Jeffery Trent sat back in his booth, drawing on his cigarette and watching the dancers as they writhed in the flashing colors and the loud vibrations of the newest disco club. Because of his slim, athletic build and blond good looks he could have his pick of dance partners, but tonight he really wasn't in the mood. He had heavy thoughts to occupy his time.

Getting old, my man, he mused. Getting bored with these infants and their playing at rituals and substance, are we? Maybe it's time to start stirring the pot again, get the blood flowing. It has been awhile since the world could have been said to be... interesting.

He ignored the girl across the room who was making eyes at him. He wasn't in the mood for company. Right now he just wanted to enjoy the evening by himself and to celebrate the end of another 'game'. It may not have been a triumphant ending, but it had relieved the boredom a bit.

I should have gotten rid of Thomas long ago. But losing him in exchange for the chance to remove one of the best of theirs certainly worked out well.

Trent had enjoyed seeing Lijah taken out. The man had been around for far too long, had done much too much damage to their side not to be respected as a worthy adversary. But even the most interesting opponents couldn't last forever, although Lijah had stuck it out longer than most.

But that was half of the fun, playing the 'search and destroy' game. It had taken him ages and ages to ferret Lijah out, and even then it had been a fluke that had led to the discovery of the face behind the power. Thomas himself had never even had a clue that he was being watched by the other side, or who it was that was watching him. Thomas had gotten sloppy. But then, so had Lijah.

What was Lijah thinking, breaking all those rules like that? For those two? Who did he think they were, anyway?

Even well-meshed teams almost never made it far enough along to be noticed, often succumbing to the weapons of their adversaries or the stresses of their jobs. But when they did survive, they were the most valuable of all.

Maybe they are worth a second look, he decided casually. Wouldn't do to get sloppy myself. Thomas never did reveal why he picked them out, other than the fact that the blond one looked like me. He never could pass up a chance to get back at his superiors, even if it was only by proxy.

With the recent exposure of his current identity, Trent would have to move to a new name, change his hang-outs, find a new profession. Not that it would be much of a loss, as this playboy existence seemed to bore him much more quickly than any of the others. A change was almost always welcome.

It might be interesting to advance the clock a bit, about ten years or so, he mused, playing with the thought. He rubbed his clean-shaven face and visualized the changes in his mind. It might be fun to play with the idea. See where it leads. I haven't done something like that for decades.

He smiled to himself, reaching into his pocket for the silver bracelet. It was one of his favorite pieces and had been the only thing worth going back for. He admitted to himself that Thomas had done one thing right by retrieving it.

Trent slipped it on his wrist and made eye contact with the young lady who was still watching him with interest.

Why not? he decided, winking at her and rising to go and introduce himself. I'm always game for a new challenge.

The End

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