"Help how?" Hutch demanded. "Help with what? Starsky, I don't
understand what's going on here!"
"I know that!" Starsky shot back. "You think I do? But one thing I do understand, this thing inside of you hates me, and I can't take much more of it, Hutch. Not while it's wearing your face."
Hutch stood up and began pacing back and forth in front of the sofa. "All right," he bit out at last. "I'll admit there's something--strange happening, but it can't be what you think."
"Starsk, those things don't exist! They're stories, fairy-tales. There's no such thing as demon possession!"
"Then what do you think it is?"
Hutch stopped, staring out the window at the bright afternoon suddenly grown cloudy in his mind. "How the hell do I know?" he snapped. "If I knew, I'd--maybe I need to see a doctor. It's not normal to have these blackouts."
Starsky shook his head vehemently, crossing to where his partner stood. "You can't do that, Hutch," he argued, putting a hand on the other man's shoulder. "They'd yank you off the streets!"
"Starsky, I'd rather have my career ruined than hurt you, maybe even kill you!" Hutch pointed at the sofa with an angry finger. "I had you pinned down there, you couldn't even move...and I don't remember doing it, Starsk! That's the scariest part! How could I have done that to you? I'd never--not even in my subconscious--want to hurt you like that!"
"You think I don't know that?" Starsky was suddenly exhausted. He rubbed his head, which was beginning to ache in earnest now, and dropped to the chair Hutch had just vacated. "I know you wouldn't, Hutch. I'm just saying, let's not be so quick to do something that might ruin both our careers."
Starsky snorted. "You think I'm hitting the streets with some young punk to back me up? Not in this lifetime, buddy. At this point, it's you or nobody."
Hutch couldn't prevent a small smile at the loyalty of his partner. "Well if this keeps up, it just might end up being nobody. I don't know what's happening, Starsky but I know it isn't right. And I agree, we have to do something. I'm just kind of at a loss..."
"Huggy," Starsky said immediately.
"Oh, please, Starsk--"
"No, wait, hear me out. Huggy has a cousin--"
"Doesn't he always?"
Starsky sighed patiently at the interruption. "Look, Huggy knows about these Ouija board things. He told me there are stories that would curl your toes. He doesn't even like to talk about it. And whether the stories are true or not, the fact is, Hutch, that you didn't start this weird behavior until after that night at the party."
Hutch was silent, pretending to study the street below so he wouldn't have to look at his partner.
"What could it hurt, Hutch? Let's just talk to the man. Remember Huggy's vampire cure?"
Hutch had to laugh at the memory of the strange ritual Huggy had insisted on performing on Starsky that night after the girls had gone home. "Yeah, I remember. As I recall, it involved something he swore up and down was chicken blood."
Starsky grinned. "Yeah, but it didn't hurt me any. So whatever weird thing his cousin wants to do, I'm sure it won't hurt you, either. And you never know. It just might work. After all," he joked, "I didn't change into a vampire."
"You weren't dead."
"The vampire has to kill you before you turn into a vampire."
"I thought you said vampires don't exist."
"Will you just think about it? Please, Hutch."
"Fine," Hutch grumbled after a few seconds. "We'll go see him. But not until tomorrow, after your doctor's appointment. And I'm only doing this to humor you, Starsk."
Starsky relaxed a bit now that the promise had been extracted. "Always knew you were a pushover."
"Yeah, well this pushover had better get back to work, or Dobey'll be more lion than pussycat in spite of Edith's best efforts."
"You should send her flowers or something. What she did was definitely beyond the call of duty."
"Maybe I'll do that." Hutch smiled as he waved goodbye to his partner and left.
Starsky waited until he heard Hutch's car pull away before grabbing up the telephone.
"Huggy? Glad I caught you. No, I'm ok, everything's fine. Listen, I need your help with--yeah, he agreed. Finally. Tomorrow afternoon all right? Great. We'll be there. Thanks, Hug."
"Enjoy your lunch, Captain?"
"Of course I did, Hutchinson, but the next time you feel the need to enlist my wife's help you might consider that she has enough to do without running down here to rescue your sorry butt. How's Starsky? When's he coming back to work?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Captain. I think Edith just loves you and wanted to do something nice for you. Is your birthday coming up, maybe? Starsky's doing better. He has another doctor visit tomorrow, and he should be back in here on Monday."
"Good. My birthday's not for another four months. I want you two back out on the streets where you belong. Having you around the squad room is getting on my nerves." Dobey retreated back into his office, muttering under his breath, "I'm beginning to talk like him now!"
Hutch rolled his eyes. "Nice to spend time with you, too," he muttered, inserting another blank report form into his typewriter. "If I don't get away from this desk soon, I'm not going to be responsible for my actions."
That comment, naturally, started him thinking about his recent memory blackouts, and the things Starsky had said. He propped his chin on his fist and stared at the wall. His generous partner would say he wasn't responsible for those actions, either, but Hutch felt differently. He'd never forget the moment of regaining--was it consciousness?--and finding himself leaning over a frightened, hurting Starsky. The look of relief on the curly-haired man's face when Hutch had come back to himself was enough to fuel the Hutchinson guilt for a long time to come. Just what had Starsky been afraid his best friend might do to him? And what were the things he'd supposedly said to Starsky--yelled at him--during the past week?
Hutch wasn't sure he really wanted to know.
After work, he mentally debated whether or not to visit Starsky, and finally decided on a call. He found himself both relieved and apprehensive when his partner told him to come over.
"You'll just fuss about me getting the cream on the burns right if you don't do it. This way you can see for yourself--"
"But Starsk, what if..."
"Hutch," the answer came back immediately, in a voice that was clear of any teasing, "I trust you. And if something happens that's not your fault," Starsky emphasized, "I can take care of myself. Don't worry."
"Like you did this afternoon?"
Starsky sighed. "That took me by surprise," he admitted. "This time, I'll be ready."
Hutch was silent for so long, Starsky was concerned. He was just about to break the tension with a lame joke when Hutch finally spoke up.
"All right. All right, but just to do the cream. I'm not staying any longer than necessary. There's no point in taking chances."
"Don't be silly."
"I'm not being silly, Starsky! Who knows what could happen if I black out like that again?" Hutch flared.
"Well, if you go home and have a blackout, what's to stop you from driving over here, if you're determined to get to me?" Starsky asked reasonably.
"Stop it," the blond commanded sharply. "Just stop."
"Sorry, Hutch, but I just think you're worrying too much."
"Did you talk to Huggy?"
"Yeah. He said four o'clock tomorrow afternoon. That'll give us time to have some lunch before we go."
"Great. All right, I'm leaving here in ten minutes, as soon as I turn these reports in to Dobey. I'll see you in half an hour."
"Did the Edith Special soften him up?"
"Not so's you'd notice."
"Ouch. Tough room."
Hutch could almost see Starsky's sympathetic grimace as he hung up the phone.
After Starsky was given the all-clear by his doctor, Hutch was able to persuade his partner to come back to his place and order pizza. He wasn't feeling confident enough to sit in a restaurant somewhere, and the thought of Starsky's request--take-out burritos--just turned his stomach.
So far the day had been uneventful. He'd put in a full morning at work, assuring Dobey again that Starsky would be back, fit and ready to go on Monday, then picked up his friend and taken him to his appointment.
Now the clock was creeping on toward late afternoon, and Hutch was growing more uncertain by the minute.
"Will you relax?" Starsky asked, patting Hutch's shoulder, and the blond man gave a small smile, realizing Starsky had seen what he'd been trying to hide from him for the past few hours.
"Sorry," Hutch shrugged. "It's just--this whole thing has me weirded out. I don't know what to think, and I certainly don't believe anything Huggy's cousin can do is going to change anything. I still think I need to make an appointment with some kind of doctor. Maybe a psychiatrist."
"Okay, but before you jump in the deep water with both feet, why not try this first?" Starsky persuaded. "You may want to deny the existence of magic and voodoo, but you can't deny Papa Theodore did something to me on that island."
"That was drugs, Starsk, and hypnosis."
"Well whatever it was, it nearly worked," Starsky insisted, still uncomfortable with the hazy memory of attacking his friend.
"You know, that's a possibility," Hutch mused. "A slim one, but something we haven't thought of before."
"That someone managed to slip me a drug that makes me have these blackouts, and exhibit aggressive behavior toward you."
"If that were true, how could they make sure you'd only be aggressive toward me?" Starsky asked as he hefted another slice of pepperoni pizza. "I haven't seen you--change--with anyone else."
"But you haven't been around me that much," Hutch pointed out. "I've been at work while you've been at home."
"Has anyone else complained?"
"No, but Dobey's sure been on a tear this week."
"Aww, he's just grumpy because I got hurt right after recovering from the flu, and we couldn't go out on the streets. He'll be fine on Monday, you watch."
"Maybe." Hutch fiddled with his Coke can, wiping away the beads of condensation that had formed on the outside. "Starsk, I don't want to do this. It just doesn't feel right, somehow."
Starsky took a napkin, wiped cheese from his chin, and wadded it into a ball. He played with it as he considered how best to persuade Hutch to go along with the plan.
"I can't force you," he said at last, trying for a casual tone. "But I really think you ought to at least give it a try. I mean seriously, Hutch, what's the worst that could happen?"
Hutch grinned. "I could get chicken blood on my new shirt?"
"So wear an old one."
"You really want me to go through with this, don't you?"
"Why are you so sure it'll work?"
"I'm not. I'm just--scared of the alternatives. If this weird, way-out thing of Huggy's doesn't work, then that means there's something really wrong. And that means you're going to have to see a doctor, maybe even a shrink. And that means Dobey's gonna have to pull you off the streets, at least temporarily. If it's temporary, it means he'll assign me another partner--"
"Could be Meredith again."
"--and if it's permanent, it means we'll probably both be riding a desk soon. And none of those options are very attractive. And no, Hutch, working with Meredith wasn't that much fun. It was okay for a little while, but she's not you. She couldn't be you even if we worked together for years."
Hutch didn't know what to say. "Thanks, buddy," he offered after a minute. Then he sighed, and drained what was left of the Coke. "So, we'll do it," he agreed. "I still think it's stupid."
"You said you'd humor me," Starsky pointed out.
"So I did. And if we're going to get there by four, we'd better get going."
Starsky helped Hutch clean up the mess and store the extra pizza in the refrigerator. Hutch turned off the lights and followed Starsky out of the apartment.
Just before starting down the stairs, Starsky turned to Hutch with a smile. "Hey, maybe--"
He never got to finish his sentence.
As soon as Starsky felt Hutch's touch on his back, he knew the uninvited visitor had returned. Hutch's hand felt...cold, somehow, as if his partner had been playing with ice cubes just a moment before.
Starsky grabbed at anything he could to break his fall, but there was nothing available except smooth wall, and the endless steps he bounced down. He felt his shoulder slam against the wall, his ankle twist as he tried to catch his balance, and at last he wound up at the foot of the stairs, flat on his back, his right arm twisted at a frightening angle.
Hutch was there in a heartbeat.
"Starsky! Oh, my God! I didn't even see you fall--I wasn't paying attention--I'm so sorry! I don't know where my mind was..."
Hutch trailed off as Starsky stared up at him through pain-filled eyes.
"No," Hutch whispered. "No, I didn't. I couldn't have."
"Think you'd better call an ambulance," Starsky said, his voice tight with the effort of holding it together. "I'm pretty sure my arm's broken. Maybe my ankle, too."
Hutch swiped his hands over his face, taking in the broken form of his partner once more, then nodded quickly and ran up the stairs. He made the call for an ambulance, grabbed a pillow and blanket from the sofa, and returned to Starsky in record time.
"Here," he said, gently lifting Starsky's head enough to slip the pillow beneath it.
Starsky gasped at the pain, and Hutch winced.
"You've got a bump the size of Alaska back there, buddy," he joked as he spread the blanket over his friend's body.
"I've had worse," Starsky murmured. "Hutch--" He reached out his left hand, and Hutch gripped it at once. "Stay with me?"
"I'm not going anywhere." A siren sounded in the distance, and Hutch lifted his head momentarily. "I think they're almost here," he said, turning his gaze back to his partner.
Starsky just nodded and closed his eyes, breathing carefully through aching ribs. Moments later, the ambulance came to a halt outside Venice Place, and Hutch rose to motion them inside.
"Here, over here," he said, going back to hover over Starsky while the paramedics entered.
"What happened?" asked one of them.
Hutch opened his mouth to reply but before he could say anything, he heard Starsky's voice, clear and surprisingly strong considering his condition.
"Tripped over my own damn feet and fell down the stairs."
No! Hutch wanted to scream. No, he's lying, I did it! He caught Starsky's eye, saw the pleading expression there, and decided to keep silent for now. Starsky needed him, and he couldn't be there if he was being questioned about the incident. There was plenty of time for that later.
"Sir," one of the paramedics said to the blond, "I'm going to have to ask you to step back. We need to get a stretcher in here."
Hutch backed away, watching while they strapped Starsky to the rolling stretcher and loaded him onto the ambulance.
"Hutch?" he heard Starsky call after he'd been secured inside.
"Right here, buddy. I'm going to follow in my car. I'll be right behind you."
"'kay." Starsky seemed satisfied with that answer, and Hutch jumped behind the wheel of his LTD, praying the engine wouldn't give him trouble today.
It started with a roar on the first try, and he peeled out of the parking space, right behind the ambulance.
It was four hours before Starsky was released from the ER, right arm in a cast, left ankle taped, a prescription for still more pain medicine in his pocket. Luckily, there'd been no concussion, but the bump on his head and various aches and bruises hurt him more than his broken arm or sprained ankle at the moment.
It was dark when Hutch helped him into the passenger side of the brown Ford.
"Your place or mine?" Hutch asked with a wry smile after he'd taken his place behind the wheel.
"Huggy's," Starsky replied firmly.
"We're about three hours late for that appointment."
"I don't care, Hutch. Let's go see him anyway."
"I meant to call him from the hospital and completely forgot."
"You had other things on your mind."
"Yeah," Hutch grimaced as he pointed the car toward The Pits.
They were completely silent on the ten minute drive, and Starsky kept glancing at Hutch out of the corner of his eyes. He was half-afraid the thing inside Hutch might actually wreck the car to avoid getting to Huggy's, but the trip was made without further mishap.
"Wait in the car," Hutch ordered after pulling to a stop in the alley behind the restaurant. "I'll see if I can bring Huggy out here. You don't need to be walking on that ankle."
Starsky was happy to obey.
Hutch disappeared inside, and returned a couple of minutes later with Huggy Bear in tow, accompanied by a beautiful young woman with cocoa skin and almond-shaped eyes. Her dark hair was slightly wavy, reaching almost to her waist, and the expression on her face was serene.
"Starsky, Hutch, my cousin Angeline," Huggy told them. "Angeline, these are the dudes I was telling you about this afternoon. Apparently they got a bit sidetracked on their way over here."
Angeline moved closer to Hutch and stared into his eyes. "You are a good man." Her voice was soft and modulated, with a slight Jamaican accent. "You care very much for this one." She indicated Starsky, never taking her eyes off Hutch.
"Yes," Hutch said, not sure what was happening but finding himself unable to break the eye contact.
Angeline put her hands on either side of his face, feeling its contours, running her fingers through his hair, then sliding them down to his shoulders. Her expression darkened a bit when she put both hands directly over his heart. She closed her eyes, and for a long moment there was utter silence in the alley, even the city noises seeming distant.
"There is something evil inside of you," she announced at length. "It wars with your spirit. So far, you have managed to keep it at bay, but it grows stronger every hour."
Angeline's eyes flew open. "Where did you take on this interloper in your soul?"
"A-at a Halloween party. There was a Ouija board..."
"Ah," she nodded, understanding. "I can help, if you will allow me."
Hutch glanced over at Starsky, and his partner gave a slight nod.
"All right," Hutch agreed. "How can you help me?"
Angeline smiled, a real smile, one that lit up the night. "Not tonight, for I must prepare. I cannot tell you when. Your demon will hear. It will fight. You must be prepared for it to hurt you or your friend again."
"No!" Hutch said vehemently. "I'm not going near Starsky until this--thing--is out of me. I've hurt him enough."
"How will we know when?" Starsky asked her. "I mean, if you can't tell us--"
"I will arrange to have him brought to me, when it is time," she replied. "You will not know how, or when. You must have faith. And when the ceremony begins, you must obey all that I tell you. Unless you agree to this, I can do nothing."
Hutch stared down at the slender young woman, wondering just what he was getting himself into. "All right," he found himself agreeing. "All right. We'll try it."