There was still more silence on the drive back to Starsky's
place. Starsky was almost unconscious from the medications
they'd given him at the hospital. Hutch, for his part, was torn
between wanting to keep away from Starsky in order to protect
him, and needing to help his friend through the difficulty of
being without one arm for a time. At least it wasn't his
dominant arm that was broken, he realized thankfully. He'd be
able to feed himself, anyway.
But not get the top off his medication bottles. Not dress and undress himself--at least not easily. And showering--well, forget that. He'd been told to wrap the cast in plastic to protect it from the water. How was Starsky supposed to do that one-handed? Hutch sighed. He wondered how much a temporary visiting nurse would cost.
"Hey, Starsk," he said quietly when he'd edged his Ford up behind Starsky's car. There was no answer from his practically comatose partner. "Starsky," he said, a little louder. When there was still no response, Hutch patted the other man's cheek lightly.
"Hm--what?" Starsky muttered, struggling to open his eyes. "Hutch?"
"Yeah, buddy. We're home. Can you make it upstairs?"
"You're not gonna carry me," Starsky replied obstinately, struggling to open the car door.
"Wait," Hutch ordered, hurrying around to open the door and offer Starsky his hand for support.
"I hate this stuff," Starsky complained. "It always makes me stupid."
"I feel a sarcastic comment coming on, but because you're hurt I'll manage to stifle it," Hutch joked, and then sobered. Because I hurt you, he thought. "Come on, just hang on to my arm. One step at a time."
Slowly they made their way to the bottom of the stairs. Starsky looked up, his expression indicating that Mt. Everest might be easier to climb. With a fortifying sigh, he held on tightly to Hutch, glad of his partner's steadying presence, and doggedly put one foot on the bottom stair. They had gotten up four steps when Hutch stopped suddenly.
"What is it?" Starsky asked, noticing his friend's sudden pallor even in the moonlight. "Hutch? Is that you in there?" He tried to keep the panic out of his voice, but wasn't entirely successful.
"It's me," Hutch said softly. "I'm scared, though. What if I--what if something happens again?"
"How do you know?"
"Because," Starsky replied, tugging Hutch up another step, "I just can't take anymore right now. It's just not gonna happen, Hutch, you hear me?"
Hutch chuckled. "Whatever you say, Partner."
To the relief of both men, the stairs were accomplished without incident, and Hutch opened the door with his own key. Starsky made for the sofa, but Hutch guided him gently toward the bed.
"Come on, Starsk, you're dead on your feet. Bed."
"Don't wanna," Starsky mumbled. "Spent the last month in bed, feels like."
Hutch grinned at how his friend slipped back into more casual dialect when he was stoned or drunk. It was just another of those things that made Starsky so interesting.
"Well, it's going to be a month and a night," Hutch informed him. Starsky dropped to the bed like a dead weight when Hutch released him, and the blond grabbed at his partner to keep him from falling over. "All right, let's go," he said, laying Starsky back gently and swinging his legs up onto the bed. He continued murmuring soothing words while he undressed Starsky down to his boxers and t-shirt, then helped him slip beneath the covers.
Hutch had already turned out the light and thought his partner was sound asleep when a voice came from the bed.
"Do you think you could stay a while?"
Hutch took a deep breath. It was decision time. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," he began, but Starsky stopped him with his next words.
"Think I needya to," he slurred. "Not too with it, I guess..."
There was no way he could refuse a request like that. Not from Starsky. Hutch closed his eyes briefly, offering up a quick prayer that he would remain in control of himself. "All right," he agreed at last. "I'll stay. But if you even think I'm getting--weird--I want you to call Huggy, okay?"
Hutch shook his head with a slight frown. He wasn't even sure Starsky had heard him.
Huggy Bear surveyed the clientele with a practiced eye. The two guys in the corner were going to be trouble before the night was over, that much was obvious. They'd both been drinking steadily for over an hour, and what had begun as a light-hearted disagreement had the distinct potential to become a physical argument before much longer. The redhead at the bar was obviously looking for tricks, but Huggy didn't mind working girls doing a little business in his place, as long as they kept it discreet. He'd seen this one before, and never had any cause to complain about her. The rest of the joint was full of the usual Thursday night crowd. No surprises, really.
In fact, the only thing unusual about this entire week was that his two favorite cops hadn't darkened his door. And that was odd. They'd usually come in for lunch at least once a week, and a game or two of pool and a couple of beers to unwind one or two nights after work. Of course, Starsky must still be on medical leave, he realized, but surely Hutch was back on the job.
Could it be the blond was avoiding him?
"SueEllen," he spoke to his newest waitress, a petite brunette with gorgeous green eyes. "Hold down the fort for me while I make a phone call."
He slipped into the back office and shut the door, blocking out the worst of the noise from the bar. He wasn't sure why his hands trembled slightly when he dialed Angeline's number.
She answered on the first ring.
"Angeline? It's me."
"I thought it would be you, Huggy," his cousin answered in her low, sultry voice. "Have you heard from them?"
"Not yet. And it's got me worried. It's not normal for them to stay away from this place for a week at a time."
"The demon is avoiding you," she said immediately. "Perhaps we must plan a surprise attack."
Huggy twisted the telephone cord nervously. "I was afraid you were gonna say that," he groused. "I don't like it. These dudes are my friends, Angie. We're tight, you know what I mean?"
"Of course I do," she said sharply. "I, too, have friends whom I love dearly. But if you want to help them, you must make a decision."
He gnawed his lip for a moment, hating the choice he was being forced to make, and at last rubbed a hand over tired eyes. "Fine," he said, his voice sounding more defeated than Angeline had ever heard it. "What do you want me to do?"
"Hutch, it's been almost a week. Will you go home already?" Starsky grinned to take the sting out of his voice, but the fact was that his friend's constant hovering had long since trampled on his last nerve. He was pretty sure he hadn't been out of the blond's sight for more than three minutes at a time since they'd left Huggy and his cousin in the alley that night.
"I don't feel good about leaving you on your own," Hutch replied obstinately. "There are still a lot of things you can't do."
Starsky rolled his eyes and fought for patience. "Hutch, people get along with their arm in a cast all the time. Hell, some guys even get their arms cut off and they manage. I might not be able to play my guitar or type a report, but I'm not gonna die on my own. And if you don't get back to work soon, you're liable to be out of a job."
"I talked to Dobey."
Starsky snorted. "More like he yelled and you listened."
Hutch shrugged. "Either way, I got the days off."
"I can manage."
Starsky sighed, picked up his friend's jacket and holster and practically shoved them at him. "Put these on, go to work, and then go home," he ordered. "You need your space. I need my space. And you need to sleep in a real bed again."
"You'll starve without me," Hutch protested feebly. "How are you going to get your frozen dinners out of the box with only one good arm?"
"That's why God gave us teeth. Now go. Surprise Dobey. You'll be a ray of sunshine in his day."
"Yeah, I'll bet," Hutch muttered. "All right, I'll go," he agreed at last, an obvious 'but...' in his voice.
Starsky lifted one eyebrow and waited.
"I'm coming back here after work. We'll go get something to eat. You must be going crazy after a week in this place."
"A lot of things are driving me crazy," Starsky cracked, practically pushing Hutch out the door. "You know I appreciate everything you've done, but if you don't go now, I'm gonna have to kill you." He managed to get his friend out the door and onto the landing before the other man turned back.
"I don't like it."
"Goodbye, Hutch," Starsky said sweetly, and slammed the door on Hutch's upraised index finger.
"I'm coming back after work!" he heard his friend yell from the other side of the door.
"Great!" he yelled back. "See ya!"
Starsky didn't move until he heard the unmistakable sound of the Hutchmobile starting up and groaning its way into traffic. Then he wandered around the apartment, picking up dirty clothes, straightening up small messes left by his partner, and generally enjoying the peace and quiet.
He napped, watched television, and was working on opening a frozen pizza box when someone knocked at the door.
"I swear, Hutch, if this is you--" he muttered as he stomped over to open the door. His eyes widened in surprise. "Huggy, Angeline," he greeted. "Come on in."
"Where's Blondie?" Huggy asked, taking the pizza box from Starsky and opening it easily.
"Thanks, Hug. I finally talked him into going to work."
Huggy looked up in surprise. "How'd you manage that?"
"Practically threatened him," Starsky grumbled, adjusting the temperature on the oven. "He hasn't let me out of his sight for days. Driving me crazy."
"It is the demon," Angeline spoke up softly. "It is afraid."
"Yeah, well I've been thinking about that demon thing all week, and I'm wondering if maybe we were wrong."
"What do you mean?"
He put the pizza in the oven, shut the door and rubbed his forehead with his left hand. The damn headache he'd been fighting all morning was coming back with a vengeance.
"He's been--normal--all week," he told them. "Not a single incident. I think maybe if there was anything in Hutch, it's gone now."
"No," Angeline replied, her voice quiet but insistent. "It is hiding. It is attempting to trick you."
"I haven't seen you at my place all week," Huggy commented. "I kept hoping the two of you would drop in for a burger, at least."
"Yeah, well I suggested it a few times, but Hutch always had some reason for not..." He trailed off. "Oh."
"Yeah," Huggy agreed. "So Angeline has a plan. But I guarantee, you're not gonna like it. I don't like it much myself."
Starsky looked into the deep, dark eyes of Huggy's cousin, and felt an unexpected sense of safety. He hadn't felt it in such a long time, it took him a moment to even recognize the emotion.
"What's the plan?"
"We ambush him."
Starsky stared at Huggy for a long moment. "You're right. I don't like it. Huggy, this is Hutch we're talking about!"
"No," Angeline objected. "It is not your friend. The demon is growing stronger, and it is very cunning. If you do not help him while you can, it will consume him completely."
Starsky looked from one to the other, then rubbed his head again. "Huggy, get me some aspirin out of that cupboard behind you, willya?"
Huggy did, opening the bottle and shaking two of the white tablets into Starsky's hand. He handed his friend a cold soda out of the refrigerator and waited until Starsky had swallowed the aspirin and half the drink.
"Starsky, I don't care for the plan, either, but what else can we do? That thing inside Hutch ain't gonna get within a mile of Angeline, not willingly."
Starsky twisted the soda can in his hand, absently rubbing his finger around the top of it for a few minutes. Huggy and Angeline waited. Finally, Starsky looked up.
"Let me try one more time to get him into your place first, huh?"
"It won't matter. We're gonna have to drug him anyway, to get him to Angeline's house."
"Whoa!" Starsky held up a hand. "Nobody said anything about drugs, Hug."
Huggy rolled his eyes ceilingward. "You got a better way to get Hutch to cooperate?" he demanded. "What we're doing is called kidnapping, Starsky. I don't think Blondie'll go quietly."
Starsky slumped visibly. "Yeah. I guess you're right. What is this drug you want to use on Hutch?" he asked the girl.
"Nothing that will harm him, I assure you. It is a combination of herbs. It will make him sleep, nothing more. It is not an addictive substance."
Starsky tossed the now empty can into the trash and began pacing the small living room. "If we're wrong..."
"If we're wrong, your better half is gonna be pissed, no question," Huggy allowed. "But he won't hold it against you forever, Curly, you know that."
"I used to know that. Nowadays..."
"Nowadays, it ain't Hutch in there half the time. Look, would you rather he went to a shrink? What would a doctor say about--"
"I can't let that happen. His career as a cop would be over."
"Right. But this way--well, worst case, we're not any worse off than we are right now."
"All right, Huggy, all right. I'm convinced." He turned to Angeline. "Tell me what to do."
She removed a small packet from her purse. "Put this in his food. You must mix it in well so he cannot see it."
Starsky inspected the small packet of herbs carefully. "Looks like marijuana," he joked. "Will Hutch be able to taste it? He's an expert on weird herbs and things."
"It will taste like normal seasonings. Put it in something liquid, like soup. Make sure he consumes it entirely."
"What if he doesn't? What if he's not hungry, or doesn't like it, or--"
"You must make certain," she insisted, her voice taking on a sharpness of tone that Starsky hadn't heard before. "If the demon suspects, it will fight you. It could kill you this time. You must find a way."
"Okay, okay." He stuck the packet in a cupboard, behind the box of salt. "Then after he eats it, what?"
"It will take half an hour to work. When he is asleep, you will signal to Huggy and me. We will come and get him."
"We'll be outside," Huggy put in. "Hutch won't be asleep for long, so we'll have to work quickly."
"You can't carry him by yourself, and I won't be much help," Starsky pointed out. "You're gonna need some more help, Hug."
"True." Huggy bit his lip. "Carlos. He can be trusted. I'll bring him along."
Starsky nodded. He'd met Huggy's friend Carlos a time or two, and he seemed like a decent guy.
"What will you do to him?" he asked Angeline. "I mean, what sort of ceremony are you talking about?"
"That, I cannot reveal. I assure you, he will not be harmed. If we are successful, your friend will be returned to you. I must inform you that there is a slight risk that the demon will be stronger than my powers. If this is so..."
"What? If this is so--what?"
Angeline straightened her shoulders and met his gaze squarely. "If the demon is too strong for me, there is a possibility your friend could be entirely consumed by it. After talking to him, I do not believe this to be the case, but there is always the possibility. You must be prepared for such an event."
Suddenly, the whole situation had taken on a frightening new dimension.
"When do you expect the blond one home?"
Huggy nodded. "We'll expect your signal around six-thirty or seven, then. Just blink the porch light a few times. We'll be parked where we can see it, but out of sight of Hutch."
"Wait until you are certain he is sleeping soundly," Angeline warned. "The demon could be more clever than we imagine."
She took Starsky's right hand, squeezing it gently. "It will be all right," she said, her small smile somehow encouraging. "I feel the presence of goodness around me. I believe the ceremony will be successful and you will have your friend back by tomorrow."
"I hope so. If not..." Starsky just shook his head at the possibility.
"Hang in there, bro," Huggy said, gripping his shoulder for a moment in friendly support. "And now we'd better get going. He'll be here soon. We'll go get Carlos and be back in plenty of time for the main event."
After they had gone, Starsky took the packet out again, and stared at the contents. He opened it and sniffed. It smelled something like the spices his grandmother had used in spaghetti sauce. "Good idea," he told himself aloud. "Better than soup. Hutch'd never believe that coming from me."
Luckily, Starsky considered spaghetti and sauce to be necessary staples of living, so he already had the supplies. He opened a can of the red sauce, suddenly more thankful than ever for electric can openers, and was about to stir the packet of herbs into it when he realized Hutch would be suspicious if he didn't have any sauce--and it wouldn't do anyone much good if he conked out, too. Quickly, he ladeled a serving of the plain sauce into a bowl and put it aside for himself. Then he added the packet to what remained in the pan. It blended with the seasonings already in the spaghetti sauce so well that he couldn't see it or smell it. He even tried a small taste of the unheated sauce, and thought he could detect a slight, unfamiliar tang. Starsky covered the pan, turned it on low to let it simmer, and hoped heat would remove the odd taste, or at least mask it enough that Hutch wouldn't notice.
He looked at the clock--five-thirty--and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Opening it one-handed was a challenge, but one he met with alacrity. Maybe it would calm the rising fear in the pit of his stomach.
For now, he could only hope and pray that Hutch wouldn't notice, that this would work, and that when it was all over, he'd have his best friend back whole and unharmed.
By the time Hutch walked in, Starsky had finished cooking the spaghetti and poured his reserved sauce over a plateful of the pasta. He drowned it in cheese, knowing Hutch wouldn't touch it after that, so there could be no mix-up.
"Smells good," Hutch commented, following his nose to the kitchen.
"Only the best spaghetti sauce you can buy," Starsky informed him.
"How'd you manage to do all this, Starsk?"
"I told you, I'm not helpless. Just a little hampered. Sit down."
"Let me help," Hutch said, grabbing at the pan with the sauce as it tipped in Starsky's hand on the way from the stove to the table.
"Thanks, buddy." Whew!
Starsky watched as Hutch served himself, covering the pasta with the spaghetti sauce. He hoped it would be enough.
"So how was it around there today?" he asked as he twirled a bite of spaghetti on his fork.
Hutch sighed and looked up as if hoping for patience. "Don't ask."
"Worse. You got another beer in there?"
Hutch started to his feet, but Starsky motioned him back down. "I'll get it. You've waited on me enough this past week."
Hutch watched as he went to the refrigerator and grabbed the last bottle of beer, then held it under his arm and twisted off the top.
"What's in it?"
Starsky looked up, startled. "Huh?"
"I said," Hutch repeated, deliberately taking the beer from Starsky and putting it aside, "what did you put in it?"
"What are you talking about?"
Hutch advanced and Starsky retreated, until the darker man was trapped between his partner and the kitchen cabinet. Hutch didn't touch Starsky with his hands, but his eyes held pure venom.
"You put something in the beer. That's why it was the last one. That's why it was so easy for you to open--it had been opened before, hadn't it? Who helped you? Huggy?"
Starsky tamped down on his building terror and tried for a tone of impatience. "Hutch, will you listen to yourself? Why would I put something in your beer, huh?"
"To get rid of me."
"If I wanted to do that, I have my gun. I can still shoot, you know."
Hutch's eyes began to lose their glimmer, but it was a slow change this time, rather than the instant one Starsky had seen in the past. "I guess so." He put his hands on Starsky's shoulders in what should have been a conciliatory gesture, but massaged them perhaps a little too roughly.
Starsky tried not to wince at the pain that shot down his arm. "Let's eat," he suggested.
Hutch had started toward the table, but before Starsky took two steps, he turned back. His habitual warning finger came up, and Starsky suddenly felt an hysterical giggle want to bubble out of him. It was stifled at once with his partner's next words.
"If you ever do think of trying anything like that, I'll kill you."
Starsky was so stunned by the threat that he could only watch silently as Hutch took his place at the table and dug into the spaghetti in front of him with gusto.
Watch, and pray.