"Ma, yes, I'm fine. And Hutch says 'hi' too. The blintzes you sent are already gone. Hutch ate most of them. Ouch!" Starsky shoved Hutch's slapping hand aside.

"Don't worry Ma, it's all okay here. Hey, what about Nick? Haven't heard from him in I don't know how long. What?" Starsky looked as if he was told about a new world wonder. He motioned Hutch to come nearer and listen to the news.

"...and she's a nice girl? Oh boy, I'm really happy for him. When is the special day? Hope we get an invitation. Yes, I have a suit, Ma... yes, I'll tell Hutch... No, no second wedding in sight. Hutch still refuses my proposal. No, Ma, just kidding!" Starsky ducked his head to avoid Hutch slapping him once more.

Finally Starsky finished the phone call. Nicky was getting married -- the black sheep of the family. Being in trouble so often in his young life. Starsky still felt responsible for his little brother. Starsky had been sent to California when Nick needed him most. Since then they had seen each other on several occasions and Nick had tried to paper over the cracks.

"A penny for your thoughts..." Hutch smiled, though he knew by watching Starsky's thoughtful face what was in his friend's mind.

"Just wondering if Nick's really okay now," Starsky mused. "Can't believe that he has finally gotten settled. Remember when he was in town last year..."

"...and had to hide from this goon whom he owed thousands," Hutch said thinking of the night when Nick had appeared at Starsky's apartment.

He had startled the detectives who were watching a football game. The peaceful evening was gone with Nick's appearance. He told them flutteringly about having gambled away money that wasn't his and that they were after him.

Starsky agreed that Nick could crash on the couch that night. Hutch had turned to leave but Starsky had insisted that Hutch wasn't in the condition to drive home after several beers.

It had been a short night, Starsky and Hutch discussing if Nick was worth being helped. Finally they decided to give Nick the money and fell exhausted asleep on Starsky's bed.

"Did you get your money back?" Hutch asked and Starsky shook his head.

"Neither did you, right?" Starsky looked at Hutch who had given a big sum of money too.

"Well, let's hope he's okay now," Starsky sighed and put the plates into the sink.

"Let's clean the kitchen," Hutch proposed but Starsky waved the suggestion aside. "I'll do it tomorrow. I'm beat. Any plans for tomorrow?"

"Linda is in town and she asked me to go with her to the new club with live music. Want to join us?"

"Nah, enjoy your date, Blondie. I'll be spoiled for choice: Am I going to date Cindy or Becky -- wait, what was the name of the gorgeous blonde you met first but then she chose me?" Starsky rambled when suddenly he was shushed by Hutch's large hand covering his mouth.

"Keep on dreaming, pal. Sleep tight," Hutch laughed affectionately and turned to leave.

"See ya then on Sunday. By the way where is this new club you're going to tonight? Just in case..." Starsky said.

Hutch gave him directions and was gone.

The scene playing in Starsky's mind was absolutely weird. He had just arrived at Nick's wedding. He was a little late and friends and family were already assembled in the synagogue. Starsky stepped inside, looking for an empty seat. His gaze fell on the couple standing in front of the altar -- and he froze: Beside Nick there was a woman Starsky would never forget: Terry, the love of his life! Starsky opened his mouth to call for a halt, but he couldn't speak at all; he wasn't heard and the ceremony went on. Desperately he wanted to walk to the altar but he was rooted to the spot.

Suddenly the rabbi said: "May I announce to you the second wedding for today. I proudly present Officer John Simonetti and Detective Kenneth Hutchinson!"

A side door opened and Hutch and Simonetti stepped in, both wearing black tuxedos and holding hands.

"No!" Starsky cried and somehow he could hear his own voice now. Frantically he looked around -- and realized that he sat upright in his bed, sweat-covered and hands trembling. The more he woke the less he could remember of the dream. It had been something about Terry and Hutch -- and it must have been kind of a nightmare.

Starsky went to the kitchen to drink a glass of water. He wasn't sleepy any longer and turned the TV on. Watching a cartoon marathon Starsky was finally able to relax again. He lay down on the cushions of the couch and drifted off. His last thoughts were about Nicky getting married...

"No, this isn't Hutch, it's me, Starsky, the curly-haired good looking guy, you know."

This was the last phone number Starsky had in his little book. Must be the gorgeous blonde who had preferred Hutch first, but then had had dinner with Starsky. It wasn't such a bad choice mainly because all his other ladies were unavailable this evening.

"Okay. Hmm... yeah... Patty, then I'll pick you up about seven. See ya." Starsky added the address to his little book, then he showered and put on his new tight jeans and a dark blue shirt to impress the girl.

The evening in the little Italian restaurant turned out to be promising. Starsky had just told the story of his grandma who had lived over an Italian restaurant and was about to ask Patty to go over to his place when she asked: "Hey, you haven't told me about your friend -- Hutch. How is he? Thought he would join us."

"Really?" Starsky said a little uncomfortable, and told her about the new club with live music.

"Wonderful! I've always wanted to go there. Please, I love listening to the music, let's go there, David." Patty was all excited. Reluctantly Starsky agreed. They left the restaurant to drive to the music club.

Maybe afterwards they could go to his place and...

"Hey, look at all the police cars... and there's smoke!" Patty suddenly shouted.

They had turned into the street where the music club was.

Starsky stopped the woolgathering and noticed that something was definitely wrong. His stomach clenched when he realized that something must have happened in the music club where Hutch was supposed to be.

There was a crowd of frightened people, sirens were heard and two ambulances arrived at that moment.

"Stay here, please," Starsky said to Patty and hurried out of the car.

"Officer, what's wrong?" he asked the next policeman and showed his badge to get access to the club. When he entered the building he saw the mess. He was informed that a bomb had been detonated and had destroyed the stage and the bar. Broken chairs and tables were spread over the floor. At the thought of Hutch, Starsky went ballistic. He pushed forward, saw injured people lying on the floor. Their moaning made him search more frantically for his partner.

Then he saw a young woman bending over somebody lying on the floor. Starsky could only see the blond hair. In a rush he shoved the woman aside and shouted: "Hutch!" But it was a stranger. He felt a hand on his shoulder and tried to shake it off. The hand stayed there and he got angry. "Hey, what..." He turned and looked into Hutch's eyes.

"Hutch, my God..." Starsky's voice trembled.

"I'm fine, it's okay," Hutch smiled with disheveled hair and sooty stains on his cheek.

"I was afraid..." Starsky said softly and laid his hand on Hutch's chest.

"Yeah, it was terrible. I was lucky I stayed in the bathroom when I heard the detonation. Linda's hurt. They've put her on a stretcher to take her to the hospital." Hutch's voice was trembling; most likely he was in shock.

"C'mon, let's go outside and look for her," Starsky tried to soothe him, running his hand up and down Hutch's spine.

"You coming to the hospital?" Hutch asked and Starsky nodded. Then it occurred to him that Patty was still waiting in the car.

"Be back in a minute, Hutch," Starsky said and hurried over to the car. Patty wasn't amused when she heard about the trip to the hospital because of Hutch's girlfriend. She wanted to be taken home instead and Starsky said, "Okay, be back in a minute."

He arranged to meet Hutch at Memorial Hospital and then he had a silent drive with Patty to her apartment. A peck on the cheek and she was gone. Starsky reminded himself to scratch her name out of his address book. She was like many other women when they realized that his job took him away from them, they backtracked.

Much worse, they were jealous of his friendship with Hutch. Terry had been different. She had accepted the bond between Starsky and Hutch. Starsky sighed. It was still hard to cope with her death. Full of gratitude, he thought of her last present to Hutch: Bear Ollie. Her enclosed letter to Hutch had brought tears to both men. A little smile crept over Starsky's face as he remembered Hutch's call to Canada to sell them off to the Canadian football team.

Starsky arrived at Memorial and had no problems finding Hutch. He was sitting in the waiting room near the counter. Starsky slumped down next to him on the sofa.

"How's Linda doing?"

"Well, she was hit by something and has a concussion. Her sister is with her now. What about your date?" Hutch asked and Starsky shrugged his shoulders.

"Had better things to do than coming with me," Starsky sighed. "Wanna stay here?"

"No, let's go home," Hutch said. "Linda's sister will take care of her tonight."

Tiredly they walked across to the parking lot. "Your place or mine?" Hutch asked as a matter of course and Starsky chuckled; he had intended to ask Patty this question...

They ended up at Hutch's apartment and while Hutch showered, Starsky got some beers for them. Finally he sat down and thought about what had happened in the club.

"Hutch, any idea why the bomb detonated there? Did you hear anything from the officers?"

Hutch emerged from the bathroom, drying his face with a towel.

"So far they assume it could be a personal revenge -- or someone doesn't want this club to be opened. It's not our case though... Let's see what the report says," Hutch took his beer; he looked exhausted.

"Get some rest, buddy," Starsky said and when they had finished their beers Starsky turned to leave.

"Hey, you can stay, there must be something for breakfast in the kitchen," Hutch mumbled but Starsky smiled: "Thanks, but what about having breakfast at my place tomorrow? My fridge is filled with tasty things, in case Patty would be there..."

"Patty? Sounds familiar to me," Hutch mumbled. "Isn't that the blonde that was crazy for me?"

"Go on dreaming," Starsky smirked and left the apartment before Hutch could go on with his roistering.

That night Starsky had no disturbing dreams but the phone rang in the middle of the night.

"'lo?" he croaked still half asleep.

"Hi, it's Nicky, how are ya bro? I'm happy, just celebrating a little with my friends, you know, last chance as a bachelor and..."

"Nicky!" Now Starsky was full awake. "Where are you?" He heard laughter in the background, music, then Nick's voice again.

"Dave, are you sure you're coming to my wedding next week?... Hey get off of me... Later, sweetheart..." the giggling of a woman could be heard.

Starsky's patience had come to an end. "Nick, listen to me! First you wake me up, second when exactly is the wedding and third you forgot to mention whether Hutch is invited! Do you hear me?"

"Sure, bro, why not. See ya then," and the line went dead.

Starsky shook his head in confusion. Typical Nick. Calling in the middle of the night, obviously more or less drunk. Starsky had the feeling that Nick wasn't eager to invite Hutch to his wedding. There was no doubt that Nick never had liked Hutch and Starsky knew why.

Once Nick had accused Starsky of never having been there for him when he needed him most. Instead Nick had seen the closeness Starsky shared with his partner. For him it was as if he had lost his older brother to a man who had taken his place. Several times Starsky had tried to discuss it with him, but Nick had reacted stubbornly. He insisted on being left behind. Somehow he had blamed Starsky for his troubles in life.

Having found a nice girl and getting married to her was a new chance for Nick. At least Starsky hoped so.

He found some hours of undisturbed sleep till someone drew back the blinds and full sunshine flooded the room and made Starsky wince.

"Hey, sleepyhead, I'm starving. What about that breakfast you promised me?" Hutch joked and disappeared into the kitchen. Starsky heard him rummaging and with a big yawn he got up to take a shower and shave.

"I see you've found all we need for breakfast," Starsky smiled when he sat down at the kitchen table opposite of Hutch. He dug into the bacon and eggs while Hutch tasted the pastry.

"Guess who called last night," Starsky said, hardly understandable with a full mouth.

"D'you know what information I got at the precinct this morning?" Hutch started.

They spoke at the same time and laughed.

"You first," Starsky said and looked expectantly at his partner.

"Well, the owner of the music club, who is seriously injured, was able to tell us for the report that there had been threats before by phone calls. Someone didn't want him to rent the club. He didn't listen and opened the club anyway. Shortly before the opening two men appeared and gave him another warning. If he didn't cooperate and share the profits with them, something would happen. He laughed them off and now he's in the hospital -- along with ten of his customers and guest," Hutch finished.

"Have you heard how Linda is doing?" Starsky wanted to know and Hutch said no.

"I'm going to visit her later. I think her sister will take her home. Never thought that yesterday evening could turn out to be this dreadful." Hutch looked pensive.

"Hey, d'you remember the club on the eastside that burned recently? Let's have a look at the records. Maybe there's a connection. It was Parker and Smith's case; we can ask them," Starsky said, leaning back in his chair patting his full belly. Hutch nodded and stood up to put the plates in the sink.

"You'll never guess who called me tonight!" Starsky was all excitement and Hutch snorted.

"Raquel Welsh?"

"Dummy -- it was Nick, my lovely little brother. His wedding is next weekend. I'll ask Dobey to give us a few days off. Look for your best suit and I'll make the flight reservations and..."

"Whoa buddy, stop shooting forward," Hutch interrupted him giving him a slight touch with the dish towel. "I don't think Nick is happy with me being at his wedding. I bet he only invited you, right?"

"Not at all!" Starsky affirmed. "He said it's okay... By the way, there's no question -- you're coming with me!"

Hutch sighed. "Your wish is my command. But if he dares to take advantage of your good humor..."

"Won't happen," Starsky assured him and put the clean plates in the cabinet.

They parted; Hutch taking care of Linda. Starsky calling Dobey to inform him about needing some days off for Nick's wedding next weekend.

"Fasten your seatbelts, stop smoking, we are landing within a short time at New York International Airport."

Starsky looked out of the window and could see the Skyline of New York. Going down the suburbs came in sight and Starsky was remembered of his childhood in the streets of Brooklyn.

He was looking forward to seeing his mother and Nick again.

Starsky felt the weight of Hutch's body leaning against him. Hutch had fallen asleep as he was exhausted and it showed on his face. The last days had been busy for both of them. Dobey had agreed to give them some days off, but only if they finished all the overdue reports. So they had worked overtime to get all reports done.

Starsky had been too excited to fall asleep. Now he nudged his friend carefully to wake him up. "We're almost there, c'mon, wake up."

Hutch stirred, looking disoriented, and then rubbed his eyes. Starsky helped him to fasten the seat belt again.

An hour later they were waiting to get their luggage at the baggage claim.

"Wonder if Ma is waiting for us at the airport," Starsky was thinking aloud when they entered the terminal. There were crowds of people waiting for friends or family, but his mother wasn't to be seen.

Hutch felt Starsky's disappointment and put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "She's probably at home preparing your favorite lunch, knowing you are always hungry." As if to prove this statement Starsky's stomach began to growl. He had to laugh and Hutch waved for the next free cab.

When they stopped in front of a small house. Hutch noticed that the place had seen better times. Some kids were playing in the neighborhood, a burglar was sitting at the next corner.

"Here we go." Starsky paid the cab driver as they got out of the car and took their bags out of the trunk.

At that moment the front door of the house opened and a little woman appeared shouting loudly, "Davey!"

In a few long strides Starsky had reached his mother. He wrapped his arms around her and swirled her around.

"Stop it! Boy, you're making me dizzy," Mrs. Starsky laughed. Then she turned to Hutch who was still holding their bags.

"Ken, it's so nice to see you again. It's been a long time. Welcome!"

Hutch reached out to shake her hand, but she ignored it. She pulled him close and he returned the hug still a little embarrassed.

"Thanks, Mrs. Starsky," he smiled.

"Please call me Rachel," she said and led them into the house.

The smell of something delicious was in the air. As Starsky eagerly followed his mother into the kitchen, Hutch looked around. In the dining room the table was set and Hutch smiled. Rachel Starsky knew her always hungry son.

"Hmm, just the way I like it. Hutch!" Starsky called and Hutch entered the kitchen to see his friend bending over the saucepan tasting the contents.

"Leave it!" Rachel laughed. "Better bring it to the dining room. We can eat at once."

With a big grin Starsky took the pan and soon they sat at the table and savored the meal.

"Ma, tell us more about Nick's wedding. When are we going to see him? I need to see my little brother," Starsky said and Rachel was about to answer when the front door opened.

"Anyone at home?" Starsky could hear his brother's voice. A dark haired man peeked into the dining room. Seconds later the brothers were wrapped in each others arms.

"Nicky, good to see you. How are ya, little brother?" Starsky held his brother tight; his joy at having his brother close was obvious.

"Couldn't be better. Hey, you don't look too bad either," Nick said appreciatively and ruffled Starsky's curls.

Looking over Starsky's shoulder Nick's eyes met Hutch's and his smile froze. He stepped away from Starsky and said in a simpering tone, "Long time no see!"

Hutch stood up and they shook hands. Again Hutch got the impression that Nick couldn't stand him at all. Hutch had to admit it was mutual. Starsky realized the tension between his brother and his best friend. To lighten the mood he drew Nick to the table and motioned for him to sit down.

"Where's your bride? I wanna get to know her. If she sees me..." Starsky teased and Nick laughed out loud.

"No chance! Never heard of the irresistible charm of Nick Starsky?"

"Okay, okay. Tell me, where did you meet her?" Starsky asked seriously as he looked into his brother's eyes.

"In a bar downtown. I was hanging around there with some friends when I saw her at another table with some girlfriends. I paid for a round, we got to talking and that's it, big brother."

Nick turned to his mother who had started to clear the table, with Hutch's help.

"Ma, I'm gonna stay here tonight. Lucia is with her parents as well. My wedding suit is upstairs, isn't it?" Then Nick nudged Starsky in his side.

"Will be like the ol' times when we share a room again. I can tell you things..." Nick's voice softened. "D'you remember when you showed me how to climb out of the window and..."

"Shhh," Starsky stilled him. Another thought crossed his mind.

"Ma, where are we supposed to sleep?" Before Rachel could give an answer Nick said determinedly, "Davey and I sleep in our room. C'mon, let's get your bag upstairs, brother." Nick got up pulling Starsky with him but Starsky held him back.

"Whoa, hold your horses. What about Hutch?"

"Any problems?" Hutch asked entering the room. His eyes met his partner's and he saw the discomfort there.

"Well, I thought Dave and Ken could stay in Dave's room. I... " Rachel said and was interrupted immediately by an angry Nick.

"Ma, it's my last day at my parents' house. I'd like to talk to my brother and stay with him in our old room."

Rachel looked around helplessly. Hutch butted in.

"Not a problem at all. Rachel, don't you have a couch where I can sleep?"

"That's out of the question!" Starsky said. "Think of your back."

"Think of your back!" Nick scolded. "What are you, his mother?"

"Stop it!" Rachel's voice hushed them all.

"Ken is our guest. I want him to feel comfortable. Nick, you can stay here -- on the couch. Talk to Davey as long as you want. That's it! Ken, would you like to have a look at some pictures of Dave and our family?"

Hutch nodded and Starsky was about to join them when he saw the expression on Nick's face. Deep disappointment and a glance of hatred in his eyes showed him that Nick couldn't cope with the situation. Starsky put his hand on Hutch's arm and Nick watched them as they communicated without a word. Hutch smiled, and with a pat on the back they parted, with Hutch following Rachel into the adjoining room

Starsky turned to Nick and was appalled to see the disgust on his brother's face. What had he done that his brother was jealous of him, maybe even hated him?

"Nicky, let's go up in our room. Show me what has changed." Starsky tried to cheer him up and Nick accepted the offer reluctantly. Starsky felt like a little boy again when he stepped into his room, better: Nick and his room. The beds were still on opposite sides of the wall, the bookshelves, some posters of motorcycles Starsky had collected in those days. Over Nick's bed the wall was covered with Kung Fu movie posters. Starsky chuckled. How fast time had passed.

"Felt lonely here, after Ma sent you to Aunt Rosie. Was so fun when you were here." Starsky heard Nick say behind him and he felt sorry for his brother.

"Wanna know how I felt sent away from home to live with strangers?" Starsky answered looking at Nick. "I didn't want to leave, fought Ma to let me stay. I even promised to leave the gang I was hanging around with. Remember Tony the Scarface? He was kind of a friend, we were close in those days..." Starsky's voice trailed off.

"I envied you for your friends," Nick added. "I had to stay near the house and I wanted to be with my big brother. You did things I heard about and I wanted to be part of it, having fun with you."

"It wasn't all that fun," Starsky had to admit. Sitting down on his bed he looked at Nick who stood at the window waiting for an explanation.

"Tony and I were part of a group of real tough boys and we were proud to belong to them. One day they wanted us to have a test of courage. They drove us uptown and then the two of us broke into a car. We got caught by the owner -- the rest is history.

"I did miss you terribly when I was in California with Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al. So you have to believe me that it was hard for me to leave you in New York," Starsky finished and saw Nick's face soften.

He joined Starsky on the bed, fumbled in the nightstand to take something out. He opened his palm and when Starsky saw the wristwatch all memories of his father's death came back with such a power that he felt suddenly lightheaded.

"Ma gave it to me to remember Pop, but I want you to have it -- you always liked watches, didn't you?" And with a smile Nick dropped the watch into Starsky's hand.

Starsky carefully brushed his fingers across the glass of the watch. "It really means a lot to me," Starsky said softly, reaching up to caress Nick's cheek.

"You know, Hutch has a pocket watch from his grandpa. He was the only person in the Hutchinson family who really loved Hutch unconditionally. You don't remember our Pop very well, do you?" Starsky asked. Nick shook his head.

"I was too young; but I knew something terrible had happened when Pop didn't come home and Ma was crying..." Nick said. "Then you were gone, too. I had to take care of Ma, and it was a lousy time. Would have loved to talk to you... Well I made my way." Nick's mood lightened, a little smile appeared on his face. "Tomorrow I'm getting married to the most beautiful girl in town and I'll have my own business, so you needn't worry any longer about me," Nick concluded and got up from the bed.

"I'll show you my fiancee in some photos Ma has downstairs. C'mon."

Starsky got up carefully, stashing the watch from his father in his jeans pocket.

Hutch looked up expectantly, when Starsky and Nick entered the living room. Nick looked relaxed and Starsky didn't look unhappy either, so Hutch felt relieved.

Starsky slumped on the couch next to him, leaning in, and said, "Well, I hope you know all about the Starsky clan now."

Hutch chuckled. "I don't remember exactly all the cousins in the third generation, but your mother showed me how you looked like when you were young and..."

"...gorgeous," Starsky finished the sentence and they both laughed.

"Here, look at Lucia!" Nick had found a photo he now showed around proudly. It was of a young dark haired woman standing with a group.

"I'm really impressed," Starsky said and even Hutch had to admit, she was a beauty.

"Ma, any idea, when we can have dinner?" Starsky suddenly remembered that he hadn't had anything to eat in the last couple of hours.

"You'll never change, will you?" Rachel smiled. "Come and help me in the kitchen, then we can eat soon." She stood up and hustled him towards the kitchen.

Hutch and Nick kept sitting in the living room. Silence spread; neither knew what to say.

Unexpectedly, it was Nick who broke the silence.

"Dave mentioned your back earlier. What's wrong with it?"

Astonished, Hutch looked up. Was Nick really interested in his well being?

"Yeah, I hurt my back chasing some goons, that's all," Hutch answered shortly, not knowing where this was leading to.

"I remember from my dad; it's a dangerous job. Have you ever thought of leaving the police to have a safer job? You could earn a lot more money in other jobs, why a cop of all things?"

Hutch was wondering what this was about. He decided to test Nick's real motives behind these questions.

"You know, I'm doing it for your brother. He always wanted to be a cop and I have to watch his back. He needs me, so I'm sticking with him."

"Hutch, you should think of yourself, of your career. You know, I have my own business now that I'm getting married. I make a lot of money, not risking my life every day like you."

Hutch was getting more and more suspicious. He pushed further. "Nick, I'll tell you, Starsk and I are very close. We don't like being separated. There's no chance I'm gonna leave him alone."

Hutch observed Nick closely and finally he saw the jealousy on Nick's face. He couldn't be fooled. Nick wished him far away from his brother and Hutch had always known it.

"Hutch, have you ever tried the pirogue Ma makes?" Starsky rushed into the room with a stuffed pastry and shoved it into Hutch's mouth.

"Hmm, have any more of it?" Hutch was barely heard and Starsky grinned.

"Sure. Let's set the table. Nicky, what about wine or beer to celebrate the end of your bachelor days, huh?"

Nick hurried to the cellar and came back with some bottles of red wine.

Finally they sat round the table and before starting to eat, Starsky said, "Let's have a toast; It's for you, Nicky. May your future be bright and filled with love."

They clinked their glasses, Nick looked contented and then they enjoyed the dinner.

Rachel told them about the different weddings in the family and how they had celebrated them.

Nick opened the third bottle of wine and Hutch noticed that he was drinking quite a lot.

"Wanna get married, too, big brother?" Nick asked at that moment, his voice a little slurred.

"I told Ma already, Hutch has refused..." Starsky started to joke. "Ouch!" Confused, Starsky looked at Hutch who had kicked him under the table.

"What? Doesn't your friend allow you to be happy with a girl?" For Starsky, Nick's reaction was quite odd.

"You got a problem?" Starsky asked a little alarmed.

"I always wondered why you haven't found a girl. As my brother it should be normal to take the lead in these things. Instead you are joined to the hip with someone..."

"Nick, be quiet!" Rachel tried to stop her son, but Nick went on obliviously.

"You are joined to the hip to someone who pretends to be your friend but who isn't able to watch your back at all. What about the shootout in that restaurant? Last time I was in town you were still suffering from the injuries. And where was your friend when you got poisoned? A true friend never..."

"Don't you dare go on!" Starsky growled angrily. "Shut up! And listen carefully to me, yes, Hutch and I are very close; he's more than a brother to me, he cares for me, he has saved my life many times." He looked at Hutch who had lowered his head.

Starsky put his palm under Hutch's chin and tilted his partner's head up till their eyes locked.

"Pal, I'd live and I'd die for you!"

Nick went pale; he choked on his wine. His face showed all emotions from anger through hate to disgust. He got up, almost pulling down the tablecloth as he stormed out of the room.

Then they heard the front door slam.

Rachel covered her face with both hands. "Oh God, how can he say these things? And I'm so sorry, Ken."

"Excuse me," Hutch said. He got up and Starsky's hand slipped down his arm. Hutch left the room and Starsky turned to his mother.

"Ma, what's wrong with Nick? When we were upstairs in our room he wasn't this hateful and disgusting. Far from it! For a moment I thought I had my little brother back."

"Dave, you know, that Nicky had a hard time. First your Pop died, then I sent you to Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al -- maybe it was a mistake; maybe I should have kept you here with us. It..."

"Ma, stop worrying. You can't take all responsibilities. Nick is a grown man. I wish he could accept the way I..."

"I'm leaving. I'm sorry," Hutch interrupted them, standing in the doorway, his bag in his hand.

In a matter of seconds Starsky got up to stand in front of his partner. "What're you saying?"

"Stay with your family, Starsk. Your brother needs you now. I don't belong here. I feel out of place. I'll go to a hotel... Mrs. St... Rachel, where I can get a room?"

Hutch turned to leave, but was pinned against the wall by a fuming Starsky. Hutch tried to push him away, instead he heard Starsky growl, "Put down the bag."

Hutch tried to reach the doorknob of the front door and Rachel watched in amazement as the grown men started wrestling like little boys. She barely heard a word, then at last it looked like the two men remained embraced. Starsky seemed to whisper something into Hutch's ear.

All of a sudden Hutch's shoulders slumped; slowly he set down the bag.

"That's my boy!" Starsky's relief was palpable. He dragged his friend back into the room.

Rachel looked at Hutch's flushed face and smiled. "Forget about Nick's bad behavior, Ken. When he drinks too much, he gets unpredictable sometimes. I'll have a talk with him in case he returns. Make yourself at home."

"Let's go upstairs, buddy, it'll be a long day tomorrow. When are we going to meet the bride and her family?" Starsky asked his mother.

"A reception will be at 11 o'clock. The wedding is in the afternoon at 4. Have a good night!"

"Thank you, the same to you, Rachel," Hutch said, already being dragged up the stairs by Starsky. Watching her son and his best friend, Rachel smiled and hurried into the kitchen.

"Here's my room, look, all my motorcycle posters are still there. Nicky slept over there." Starsky pointed to the opposite wall and saw Nick's wedding suit still hanging there.

"Wait a minute. I'll take it downstairs. I can do without Nick tonight," Starsky said and pointed to the hall. "Next door is the bathroom. Make yourself comfortable. Be back in a second."

Starsky rushed downstairs and gave the suit to his mother.

"Wait, Davey," Rachel held him back. "How did you get Ken to stay here?"

Starsky beamed at his mother and hugged her. "I have my ways. In this case, I was lucky to remember a weird dream I had recently about Hutch. I told him to get the precinct informed about certain things. Don't worry, Ma. Hutch is a nice guy. I love you both!"

Starsky ran upstairs again and was quite surprised to see Hutch still standing in the middle of the room. "Hey, you gonna sleep in your clothes or what? Need help getting undressed?" Starsky joked.

"Very funny!" Hutch said. "Don't know where I'm supposed to sleep. This is your bed, right?" A look at Hutch's face showed Starsky why his friend felt so uncomfortable.

"Hey, no problem. Sleep in my bed and I'll take Nick's." With a pat on Hutch's back, Starsky left for the bathroom.

Hutch gave a sigh of relief. He got undressed and lay down on Starsky's bed. Looking around the room, he tried to imagine how Starsky's childhood might have been. Caring parents who loved him and his little brother unconditionally. Then the tragic death of their father destroyed the happy family life. Nick was left behind when Starsky was sent to California. Now Nick hated all that had separated them...

"Blondie! You already asleep? I'm ready for bed. You can use the bathroom." Starsky was hovering anxiously over his friend.

"Yeah, thanks." Hutch stopped his tragic thoughts and got up.

When he came back into the room, Starsky was already sound asleep. Hutch changed into his pajama bottoms, lay down and tried to get some rest. But the images of an angry Nick haunted him for a while longer, then, exhausted, he fell asleep.

He was lying on an island; the refreshing breeze from the sea tousled his hair. He tried to get up, but wasn't able to move. He looked around and realized that he was tied to a big tree behind him. His wrists hurt from the restraints. His glance fell on something behind the next bush. A leg was peeking from under it and he recognized the shoe...

"Starsk," he croaked. At this moment a man showed up and came towards him.

"Nick, what are you doing here? Where's Starsky?"

A wicked smile on his face, Nick came nearer, bent down to whisper in Hutch's ear, "I made short work of him. If I can't have him, you won't have him either." His insane laughter filled the air.

"No! Starsky!" Hutch cried trying to free himself. Something held him at bay. Frantically he was fighting against the bonds...

"Shhh, buddy, what's up? Calm down, please, it's me." The soothing voice caused Hutch to open his eyes. Slowly he realized where he was. Starsky was holding his flailing arms.

"Having a nightmare?" Starsky asked and Hutch only nodded. He wouldn't admit that it had been about Nick. He took deep breaths to slow his heart rate.

"I'm okay. Really, go back to sleep, Starsk," Hutch reassured his partner. He felt Starsky's hand for a brief moment on his cheek, then with a contented sigh he turned on his side and relaxed.

With Rachel between them Starsky and Hutch entered the Continental Hotel where the reception for Nick and Lucia's wedding was held. They were welcomed with a glass of champagne and soon they saw Nick standing among some other men, obviously members of Lucia's family.

"Ma, what do you know about the bride's family?" Starsky whispered.

Rachel said proudly, "It's the Colosimos; they're popular with their Italian restaurants. They gave Nick a job in their business. He's really lucky with this girl. Lucia is so lovable. Look, she's over there. Must be one of her brothers she's talking to. Let me introduce you to her."

Resolutely Rachel walked towards the young woman followed by Starsky and Hutch.

"Lucia, may I introduce you to my son David and his friend Ken?"

"Mamma!" The bride showed a lovely smile and hugged her to-be mother-in-law sincerely. Then she looked over the two men in their dark suits at Rachel's side and an appreciative smile appeared on her face.

"Nice to meet you," she said and shook their hands.

"Where's my beautiful girl?" They heard a voice from behind and soon Nick had wrapped his arms around his lady, grinning broadly.

Starsky exchanged a look with Hutch and noticed the paleness of Hutch's face. Oh buddy, don't worry, I'll be with you...

Nick released Lucia and turned to his mother to embrace her. Then he stepped towards Starsky, reaching out his hands in a self-conscious gesture.

"Brother, hope you don't mind my behavior from yesterday evening. Was kinda carried away... Let's make up, huh?" His eyes pleaded for forgiveness, and when Starsky felt Hutch's hand on his back, he gave in and let Nick embrace him.

Nick wouldn't let go. Starsky felt the tension of his brother's body and he ran his hands up and down Nick's back. Finally Nick relaxed and when they locked eyes, Starsky could see the wetness in his brother's eyes.

Hutch had stepped back, but Nick knew there was another job for him to do. He straightened and under the watchful eyes of his brother, Nick brought himself to apologize to Hutch.

"Ken, I know you must be mad at me. I'm really sorry for what I said. I'm glad to have you here on my wedding. Have fun, okay?"

Hutch looked at the outstretched hand, noticed Starsky's encouraging smile and with a sincere "Wish you all the best" he took Nick's hand and squeezed it.

"I'm starving!" Starsky shouted and they all laughed and followed him to the large refreshment table.

"Buddy, I need to talk to you..."

His plate full of delicious foods, Starsky looked questioningly at Hutch who was as pale as a sheet.

"Let's go over there," Hutch said and motioned to a corner not far from the entrance.

"Are you not feeling well?" Starsky asked, worrying about his friend.

"You know, the name Colosimo sounds familiar to me. Couldn't place it at first, but now I'm quite sure it has to do with the investigation three years ago when we were after that gambling organization..."

Starsky stared at him, the meal on his plate almost forgotten.

"Wow -- anyway -- it's not our business right now. By the way, did we get the bad boys? Wait! Wasn't it you who went undercover so we could bust them at last?"

"You got it! But the worst is, among the guests is a man whom I recognize as the brother of one of the perps we were after. He had introduced me to the organization at the time. If he sees me here my cover will be blown and he'll know that I was the one..."

"Hey! You aren't leavin' already, are ya?" Nick was waving from the bar. Next to him was the man Hutch had recognized before. Before he could turn his head the man said something to Nick and both men came toward Starsky and Hutch.

"That's him!" Hutch hissed to warn Starsky, but it was too late.

"Lucky Joe!" exclaimed the man and before Hutch knew what happened he was hugged and kissed on the cheek. "Great to see you again! Lucia is my cousin and this perp is going to marry her. You gonna make her happy, eh?" He pinched Nick on the cheek.

"But, how..." Nick started looking confused at Hutch who interrupted.

"Good to see you, man, how's business?"

"You know how it ended. The big boss is still trying to find out who sold him out to the cops. How did you get away, by the way?"

"That's another story. I've got to go, we're meeting other members of the family. Nick, are you joining us?"

"Sure, I need my brother on his special day!" Starsky got into the action and threw his arm round Nick's shoulder to lead him away from the man. Hutch wiped his sweat-beaded forehead.

"He called you 'Lucky Joe'? How come?" Nick wanted to know.

"It was Hutch's nickname when we made it big with billiard. He was such an ass..." Starsky came to Hutch's rescue and changed the topic.

"What about the job you got in the company, little brother?" Starsky nudged Nick in his side and Nick was eager to tell them. He told how he was helping to organize the restaurants and would eventually have his own restaurant if all went well. They joined Rachel who was talking to Lucia's parents. Hutch stayed in the background and when Nick was distracted by other guests, Starsky motioned Hutch to leave the party.

"That was close!" Leaning against a wall in the parking lot Hutch took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. "If Nick is telling them about our jobs, we've had it!"

Starsky looked at Hutch's pale face. He had no idea how this problem could be solved.

"You know," Hutch went on, "The boss, who's still in jail, promised to kill the one who was responsible for the bust. Soon he'll know that I was the one..."

"You're right; Nick can't keep his mouth shut. He'll proudly tell them that we're detectives in Bay city," Starsky worried. Then his mood lightened and he put his hand on Hutch's shoulder.

"We should let Nick in," he started, but Hutch jerked away.

"You want to tell Nick about that undercover job? Nick, who's only waiting to wipe me out? Don't do that to me. It's too risky, pal." Hutch shook his head, feeling miserable.

"You forget, that Nick looks up to me. If he has the chance to do something for me, he'll be grateful. He gets closer to me this way. Believe me!"

Full of determination Starsky gave Hutch a one-sided hug and pulled him back to the hotel entrance. Hutch followed, not fully convinced though...

"To get Nick away from the wrong people, we have to set up a little charade," Starsky said in a low voice.

Hutch looked at his friend, not sure what Starsky was talking about.

"I'll pretend to feel sick and go to the bathroom. You bring Nick to help me. I'm sure he'll come at once. Hopefully we can talk to him there. You ready?"

Hutch had his doubts, but he nodded.

Starsky strode away in direction to the bathroom, pressing his hands against his stomach. If it wasn't serious Hutch would have laughed about the weird situation.

Looking out for Nick, Hutch saw him standing next to Rachel. Relieved he approached them, giving his face a worried expression.

"Nick, can you help me with your brother? Seems he has a problem..." Rachel looked at them questioningly, but Hutch smiled at her and said: "We'll be back right away, Rachel."

"Hey, sure, no problem!" Nick said and pulled Hutch with him. "What's wrong with David? Where is he?"

"In the bathroom," Hutch said and when they had entered the room, Hutch closed the door behind them, so they wouldn't be disturbed. Starsky was leaning over the sink.

Nick went to his brother right away and leaned against him. "What's wrong, Davey? Are ya sick? Can I help you? Tell me," he said full of concern.

Starsky looked up at Nick and Hutch noticed the paleness on Starsky's face. "Yeah Nicky, I felt a little dizzy; dunno... need to talk to you." Starsky rested his arm on Nicks shoulder and said slowly: "Ya know, what I'm telling you now is confidential and if you don't want me to bring into danger you have to keep your mouth shut."

Nick was all ears and hung on Starsky's every word as he was told about Hutch's undercover job years ago and the danger of being uncovered by Lucia's cousin.

"Nicky, you shouldn't tell anybody about us working for Bay City Police Department. If they hear about it, it could be disastrous for me -- for us. You understand?" Starsky locked eyes with his brother and squeezed Nick's arm.

Nick nodded. "I'll do all you want me to do for you," he assured and clasped Starsky's hand.

"I won't tell anyone -- Scout's honor!" He looked over to Hutch and a smile appeared on his face.

"Lucky Joe, eh?"

Hutch smiled back, though a bit insecure.

"I'm feeling better -- let's join the party!" Starsky exclaimed, gave Nick a brief hug and let him go first out of the door.

He wanted to follow, but Hutch held him back for a moment and mouthed a silent "Thanks."

They locked glances and, drawing strength from each other, went back to the reception.

They kept away from Lucia's family and when the wedding ceremony started in the synagogue they took a back seat. When the side door opened and the rabbi and his right hand appeared Starsky smiled and nudged Hutch reminding him of the dream he had had. Hutch only rolled his eyes.

He spotted Lucia's cousin in the front row among other family members. As soon as the ceremony had come to an end both detectives left the synagogue to avoid another contact with the man who could get Hutch in trouble.

Under the pretext of needing to contact Starsky's old buddy Tony Vaccaro, Starsky and Hutch left the wedding party early.

Hutch looked out of the window when their early landing in LA was announced. He hadn't been able to sleep during the flight back home. Too many impressions had struck him on their visit to New York and kept him awake.

The apprehension he felt referring to Nick had become true. The evil mood Nick had shown at Starsky's home still affected Hutch. But Starsky had stuck by him. Hopefully he had been able to shut his little brother up, so the boss of the gambling organization would never get to know Hutch's part in the bust.

A little smile crept over Hutch's face when he remembered the goodbye that morning.

Rachel had been so cordial; she gave him the feeling of being welcome to the Starsky family. They had seen Nick on the wedding party shortly before he and Starsky left. Nick had grabbed his big brother in a playful gesture and danced with him a few steps. Starsky whispered in Nick's ear and Nick nodded. Then he waved over to Hutch with a conspiratorial smile...

Hutch sighed and fastened his seat belt. Starsky stirred beside him and mumbled something about "Honey, no..."

"Wake up, buddy, you're on a plane and we're home soon," Hutch said.

Starsky yawned and fumbled with his seatbelt. "Remind me to get the stewardess' phone number," Starsky said and looked dumbfounded when Hutch laughed.

"Too late. I got them all! -- Well, there's the steward left..."

Starsky sent him a deadly glance and chuckled when the steward suddenly appeared to check on Hutch's seatbelt because Hutch had locked it the wrong way.

Hutch cleared his throat and his face reddened. After the landing Starsky let his hand linger in a teasing gesture on Hutch's butt, just when they were leaving the plane. It had the desired effect; The disgusted glances of the stewardesses were following them.

"Wait for my sweet revenge!" Hutch hissed and Starsky only laughed.

"Hey, Huggy's here to pick us up!" Starsky rushed forward leaving Hutch with their bags behind.

"I'm too old for this crap," Hutch mumbled and put up both bags to meet Huggy.

On their way to Starsky's apartment they informed Huggy about the wedding and the disastrous meeting with the perp who had recognized Hutch. Huggy promised to listen to the word on the street about the Colosimo organization.

"Come up for a beer?" Starsky asked Hutch but the blond turned him down.

"No, have to do some errands. See ya tomorrow. Hug, let's go." And they left.

"It was only a joke, Hutch," Starsky mumbled, a little disappointed. He carried his bag upstairs, got into his apartment and slumped down on the couch.

What a weekend!

The next time they couldn't complain about too little work. Dobey assigned them a new case.

A man had been found dead in a park near the nightclub district. When they asked his wife, she told them that her husband hadn't been able to pay the debts he had made with gambling. The night before his death he had confessed to her that he intended to go to the police and report the illegal gambling rooms.

The next day he was dead.

With Huggy's help they talked to some snitches, but they didn't get a lot of help. No one could lead them to the murderer and Dobey was getting more and more impatient.

"Get outta my office and find that goon!" he hollered and Starsky closed the door not as loudly as usual.

"Shit! Let's check the nightclubs again tonight. But first I need a real meal. There's a new Italian restaurant at Wood Drive. Come on, blondie, you don't look so good either," Starsky tried to encourage his crabby looking partner.

On their way to the parking garage they met detective Parker and Smith, both looking as if they hadn't seen the sun for months.

"Any results in the music club case?" Hutch needn't ask to know that the other two detectives hadn't been successful either. They only knew that it was no one well known in town; it had to be a stranger.

"Maybe a newcomer, one of the younger generation is just getting his feet wet with putting the screws on owners of music clubs and maybe nightclubs," Hutch tried to find a connection between their cases.

Pensively they ate their meal, not being able to really enjoy the food.

That evening Starsky stayed at Hutch's apartment. It was too early to do their questioning in the nightclubs, so Hutch was strumming his guitar. His soft voice filled the room and Starsky's thoughts went back to the cases they had solved -- or not. That foxy lady Lisa who had fooled them and had left them at the airport totally empty-handed -- except for the undies they had found in the suitcase.

Another case solved at last... but he had lost the love of his life: Terry. Starsky took a deep breath trying to cope with his emotions.

"Hey, you okay?" Hutch had stopped playing the guitar.

Starsky wondered how Hutch always knew about his condition. He felt his friend's calming hands on his neck, massaging the tense muscles.

"Just thinking of Terry. Y'know, we solved that case and I lost my love; it's strange..." Starsky said.

Hutch hesitated before going on with his soothing ministration.

"You're right. And Gillian could be still alive if..." Hutch started and stopped embarrassed. He didn't want Starsky to feel guilty because Gillian had been murdered for her decision to leave Grossman after Starsky had found out about her secret life as a call girl.

Starsky looked up at Hutch to say something when the phone rang. Hutch snatched the telephone receiver.

"'lo?" Then he listened without saying a word.

"Hey, what's up?" Starsky wanted to know but Hutch motioned him to be quiet.

"Okay, I'll be there. Yeah, I'll come alone. Give me an exact description, you know I have to... He hung up on me," Hutch said.

"Who was it? Don't tantalize me!" Starsky said impatiently.

"Seems that we have a lead on our case. The man said he heard from Huggy who we are looking for. He knows someone who might give us a tip. I'm supposed to meet him tomorrow morning at the old brickyard."

"Okay, no problem. We take your car, don't wanna get mine dirty there. We can..." Starsky began.

"No, buddy. He wants me to come alone. Maybe he is wanted. I think there's no risk. I'll have to talk to Dobey about some money to convince the man to tell me everything he knows," Hutch said. Starsky didn't look happy.

"Let's think it over. And we should get some shuteye for now. We still can go to the nightclubs tomorrow night," Starsky proposed.

"Any objections that I crash here?" Starsky asked and Hutch only smiled.

"You know, my couch is yours."

Sleep didn't come easily for both men. Hutch lay awake thinking of their chance to finally get the murderer of the man in the park.

Starsky thought about how to back up his partner the next morning when he met the unknown informant outside town. Starsky knew the old brickyard and the surroundings and knew that there wasn't a good view because bushes and trees obstructed the view. However, it would benefit Starsky in that he would have the chance to hide and get into action if he was needed.

With these comforting thoughts Starsky fell asleep.

Hutch heard the light snoring of his partner. Feeling protected he was soon sound asleep as well.

The next morning started with an argument. Starsky couldn't be convinced to let Hutch go to the meeting alone. He insisted on accompanying his best friend. Hutch called him "chicken", but Starsky stood firm.

At the last minute they went together. Hutch had informed Dobey of the meeting with the snitch.

"Be careful, Hutchinson. Where's your partner, by the way?" Dobey had growled and Hutch had assured him that he had the needed back up.

When they approached the terrain, they decided to separate. Starsky scrambled out of the car to crouch near to the building and be there when Hutch arrived in the car.

Hutch waited some time, then he drove further till he could see the old brickyard. Plants had grown everywhere out of the walls. The surrounding area was overgrown with brushwood; nobody was seen.

Hutch climbed out of the car. Slowly he walked toward the building when he heard a noise on his left. He turned and followed the sound. Deeper and deeper he went into the brushwood.

"Anybody here?" he asked, looking around, but it was quiet again. He decided to follow the small path to his right that led back to the building. He had just turned in that direction when he heard a voice behind him.

"Stop right there. Put your hands up!"

Hutch paused and raised his hands slowly. From the corner of his eye he noticed a movement in the bushes. The informant seemed to be a very cautious and anxious man.

"Drop your gun!"

Hutch took his gun out of the holster and lowered it to the ground. He was getting a little impatient and said: "Are you playing games with me? I thought we had a deal. Are you going to tell me about the dead man in the park?"

The informant didn't answer. Hutch had the feeling that he was in front of him now, somewhere in the brushwood...

"Close your eyes and wait unless I tell you otherwise," the muffled voice was heard and Hutch chuckled.

"Is it already Christmas? Am I getting a gift?"

"Not at all! Open your eyes and keep still!" The voice had changed; it sounded hard and Hutch suddenly felt a chill race up his spine. Somehow the voice... He opened his eyes and stood shocked.

"Nick? What are you doing here?" Not believing who he was seeing Hutch rubbed his eyes.

Then he heard Nick saying, "I'm gonna shoot you now, Hutch. Sorry, but there's no other way. Thought we could manage to get along somehow, but it isn't supposed to be. Don't take it personally..."

"Don't take it personally?" Hutch shouted. "You dare tell me not to take it personally? What a load of crap! You thought we could get along and now you're pointing a weapon at me?"

Starsk, you hear me yelling? Come here to rescue me from your insane brother -- buddy, I need you...

To Nick he said, "This meeting was all a set up, wasn't it? You don't know anything about the man we found in the park. We investigated..."

While he was speaking about the case to distract Nick from pulling the trigger, Hutch was frantically searching for a way to get out of being shot. Diving into the next bushes to hide would take too much time and he couldn't sense Starsky nearby. He must be waiting closer to the brickyard. Shouting for Starsky would show Nick that they weren't alone -- not good either. The only way to stay alive for a while was talking to Nick.

"So why are you here? Never thought of being killed by my best friend's brother," Hutch ended with a tired smile.

Nick looked insecure, then he said: "Ya know nothing, believe me. The big boss was released from jail shortly after my wedding. It took him only little time to find out that my brother works as a police detective. Then Benito, Lucia's cousin, told him about 'Lucky Joe'... When they called me into the boss's office they knew already about you, Hutch. I hadn't said a word as promised. They blackmailed me and said, I had to kill the man who was responsible for the bust of the big boss, to give them proof that I was worthy enough to belong to the organization. Otherwise they would reclaim the money they had given me to open my first restaurant. And they said my life could be ended abruptly if I didn't follow their orders. What else could I do?"

"Maybe call your brother for help?" Hutch said sarcastically in a louder voice to get Starsky's attention wherever he was at this moment.

"I couldn't do that, don't you understand that? At last I wanted to be independent from Dave; he shouldn't get worried about me again," Nick said.

Hutch added, "Which is exactly the case now!"

"Okay, forget my rambling. I have to do it now." Nick's face showed a determined and desperate expression. Hutch wiped his sweat beaded forehead. He had to keep Nick talking.

"A last question; Can you tell me if you know anything about the dead man in the park?" Hutch asked and was astounded to see Nick nod.

"Why not? You know, the Colosimos' influence on restaurants and clubs was getting more important by the time. At the beginning they really had only restaurants -- but they didn't get enough money with this business. So they decided to let people gamble in the backrooms of the restaurants and they wanted to expand on the west coast too. When there was a chance to buy or rent a restaurant or a club..."

"...they cracked heads to get the club!" Hutch finished the sentence. Now it became clear why the music club was partly blown up and who was responsible for it. Linda had been hurt because of it. He wondered if he would ever see her again.

"...so they had to kill him. He would have gone to report to the police that there were gambling rooms in the clubs," Nick ended.

"Yeah, that's it," Hutch said absentmindedly. For a while he had the strange feeling that he wasn't alone with Nick. Somehow he could breathe more easily and felt more relaxed and protected.

Nick straightened and adjusted his weapon pointing directly at Hutch's heart. His hand was trembling.

"They'll shoot me if I don't get this job done. Lucia's cousin is waiting for me in town. I have to bring him proof of your death, so please shut your eyes, I can't see your face, fulfilling my jo..."

With an incredible force Nick was thrown to the ground from behind. His weapon flew into the bushes. His hands were pinned and handcuffed behind his back, his head pushed into the dust.

"Piece of shit!" Starsky's fury was palpable. He still kneeled on Nick's back. Then he knocked him out with a punch to his head.

Hutch's legs felt wobbly and he collapsed on the ground. A sob broke free, he couldn't help it. The strain had been too much. He bent his head and tried to avoid the tears coming. Then he felt Starsky's strong arms embracing him and he let it go. Pressing his head in the crook of Starsky's neck he wanted to forget all, only stay close to his best friend.

Holding Hutch, Starsky's tension faded. Finally Hutch drew back a little to lock eyes with Starsky and smiled. "What took you so long?"

Starsky, who had to wipe some dust or whatever it was from his eyes, smiled back. "I was looking for some pretty girls, instead I only found a gorgeous blond... and someone I once called my brother!"

"I don't believe Nick was going to be able to shoot me, Starsk," Hutch said. And then he told Starsky all about Nick's reasons to be in Bay City.

He was interrupted several times by Starsky's fits of rage against his brother, but finally Starsky agreed with Hutch that Nick had been forced and that they had to try to prevent more damage.

When Nick regained consciousness he looked into two pairs of blue determined eyes. Remorsefully he listened to their plan.

"Nice that you finally come to your senses and work out at Vinnie's," Hutch smiled when Starsky joined him in the fitness room. After an hour they went to take a shower.

Playfully Starsky advised Hutch not letting the soap drop, you never knew what insane guy would palter with them... Hutch only laughed, both tried to take the soap extremely carefully -- and they let them drop. Laughing hysterically they watched each other's back while picking up the soap. Later they played hide and seek in the locker room, trying to snatch the other with a wet towel. "Gotcha!" Starsky exclaimed, out of breath.

"Guys, please don't run my other clients away from here. They'll think the whole primary school is practicing here," said Vinnie.

"Sorry Vin, we have to go anyway," Hutch said, looking at his pocket watch. Starsky glanced at it, nodding seriously now.

It was a wonderful morning when both detectives stepped out of the gym. A light blue sky promised a warm spring day. Hutch stretched his arms and walked down the stairs. Starsky followed behind him. He didn't pay attention to the car that passed slowly. One of the toned windows was lowered. When Starsky noticed the gun barrel it was too late. A shot rang and Hutch fell slowly to his knees.

"No!" Starsky's scream echoed in the narrow street. In one instant Starsky was beside his partner and had placed his head in his lap. Checking Hutch's body for injuries he held his breath watching the growing stain of blood on Hutch's chest. Putting pressure on the wound Starsky yelled for Vinnie to call an ambulance.

"Don't die on me, pal," Starsky cried. Some people had stopped and were watching the scene.

Starsky rocked his partner back and forth, oblivious of the surrounding. He hugged his partner close and whispered in his ear: "So far the plan is working... As an answer Hutch's battering eyelashes grazed his cheek.

"Vinnie, where's the ambulance? Hutch is dying!" Starsky desperately clawed for Hutch's hand.

Finally the ambulance arrived. Carefully they loaded Hutch into the car to take him to Memorial.

At the hospital busy hands took care of Hutch. Dobey had arrived to wait for the doctor's report. Onlookers joining them, asking what had happened. A difficult moment came when the doctor stepped out to inform them of Detective Hutchinson's death.

To play the game Starsky knew how to react. Pretending to break down he disappeared into the exam room where Hutch had been before.

Silently two men hurried out of the hospital to tell their boss that Nick Starsky had done his job.

"Boy, what a situation! You're doing fine, aren't ya?" Starsky asked full of concern and helped Hutch to sit up and remove the little paint bomb on his chest.

"It looked realistic; hope the goons bought it. By the way, when are we going to meet Nick?" Starsky asked and Dobey explained.

"This afternoon at the airport. Nick Starsky and Benito Colosimo are going to meet the big boss of the gambling organization. He had organized the expansion of the business from jail and he's coming over to celebrate Hutch's 'death' and to check on his clubs. We'll arrest him and his confidantes there."

"What's gonna happen to Nick?" Starsky asked. Dobey had to admit that Nick would be arrested too. But he would put in a good word for Nick because he had helped the police.

Starsky and Hutch were standing side by side in a reserved VIP lounge and were watching the arriving passengers at the terminal.

"Look, there's Nick and Benito. They look ridiculous with their dark sunglasses," Starsky muttered. Soon they witnessed the greeting between them and a bulky black-haired man. Nick was kissed on both cheeks, a sign of appreciation. They turned to leave when they were suddenly rounded by several police officers. The arrest went without any disturbance. Obviously the boss of the gambling organization had no idea of what was awaiting him.

Three months later...

Starsky rounded the corner and parked in front of Hutch's apartment. He looked at his watch and noticed that he was just in time. He couldn't hide his nervousness. Today Nick was going to be released from jail. He had served his time of three months and got off lightly because of his testimony.

Starsky and Hutch were supposed to drive Nick to the airport for his flight home. Now it was time for Hutch to show up. Starsky honked the horn and looked expectantly at the door. No one came out.

"I give you one more minute, blondie," Starsky mumbled, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel. "That's it!" Starsky got off the car and hurried up the stairs. He used his spare key and entered the apartment.

Hutch wasn't in the living room, either in the kitchen. Starsky peeked in the bedroom and saw Hutch still lying in bed, obviously asleep.

"Hey, did you have an all-night party?" He heard Hutch groan and bent over his partner. Only now he noticed the sweat-beaded face and the wet strands on Hutch's forehead.

"What's wrong? I thought we were gonna take Nick to the airport," Starsky said quietly; then he put a hand on Hutch's forehead and frowned. "You're running a fever, buddy. How are you feeling?"

Hutch turned on his back to face Starsky. "I did have an all night party -- in the bathroom. Don't know why..." he said with a tired smile.

"You should have called me. Ya know I'm the best medicine for a special blond," Starsky said half seriously. "Let me get you something to drink. What about a cup of tea?" Hutch nodded. He sat up in bed, his stomach was still hurting. He wondered why he felt this bad. There hadn't been a virus at the precinct and he hadn't eaten anything unusual.

"Here we go," Starsky perched on the edge of the bed and Hutch took the hot mug in both hands.

"I think there's no chance you can come with me to pick up Nick," Starsky said dismayed, looking at Hutch's pale face.

"Sorry, pal," Hutch said. He tried to get out of the bed, but swayed instantly. Starsky supported him and led him to the bathroom.

Starsky felt sad and lonely having to meet Nick without his partner and best friend. When Hutch had finished in the bathroom Starsky helped him to get to bed again. He found some medicine in the cabinet Hutch could take if he didn't feel better soon.

"I have to go, buddy," Starsky said. With a soothing gesture he lay his hand on Hutch's stomach. Hutch flinched first, then relaxed noticeably.

"You take care," he smiled. Then Starsky was gone.

When Starsky arrived at the prison he knew he was late. He was wondering if Nick would complain. He flashed his ID and badge and was led into a waiting room. There his brother was sitting in a corner, a bag by his side. When he saw Starsky he got up slowly and hesitated, not sure what to do next. Starsky noticed the pale face and the seriousness Nick emanated. There was no macho attitude when he walked towards his big brother and put forth his hand.

"Dave," Nick said. Starsky took his brother's hand and shook it. Starsky felt nothing but aloofness. What Nick had done couldn't be forgotten easily. Starsky had no intention to make a move for a reconciliation.

Wordless they left the building. Nick looked back and sighed softly. Starsky showed no reaction at all. When he opened the car door Nick asked astounded: "Where's Hutch?"

"Wasn't up to this," Starsky replied shortly and started the car. They drove in silence till Starsky said, "It's all arranged with Lucia?"

"Yes, we want to make a new start in Canada," Nick answered. Uncomfortable, he squirmed in his seat, his hands fumbling with the buttons of his shirt.

"Dave?" Nick looked over to Starsky who returned the look, frowning.

"What?" he asked.

"I have to talk to Hutch. I thought he would be with you..."

"No chance!" Starsky paid no attention on Nick and turned in direction to the airport.

"Please, let me talk to Hutch! I need to explain... I can't leave this way!" Nick was pleading now, his desperation was palpable. "Dave, I have to tell him how I feel, how wrong it was what I did... I want to apologize even though he won't accept it, he should know that I've changed. The last months were hard enough for me, you can believe me... give me the chance to make up."

Starsky slowed down and a look at his brother convinced him of Nick's honesty.

"Well, Hutch isn't feeling so good right now. He's been sick and I'm not sure if he wants to see you, let alone talk to you. But we can give it a try," Starsky said and changed the direction to Hutch's apartment.

"Thank you Dave, I owe you," Nick said and a first smile crept over his face.

When they arrived, Starsky motioned Nick to stay outside. "I'll see what I can do," Starsky whispered before he disappeared into the apartment. Nick stood there, his heart racing suddenly. Mixed emotions overcame him. What if Hutch refused to see him? It was understandable. He had been such a jerk. He would never...

"Come in," Starsky interrupted Nick's thoughts and waved him in. Now it was Nick that got cold feet. He stood there, rooted to the spot. Then he took a deep breath and went in.

Hutch was lying on the couch, covered with an afghan. A book lay by his side. When he saw Nick, he sat up, a depreciative expression on his pale face.

Nick cleared his throat. "Hmm, I'm sorry that you've been sick. Uh, how are ya now?"

Hutch only shrugged his shoulders. Nick coughed nervously.

"Hutch, before I leave for New York and from there to Canada to make a new start with Lucia I had to come here. It's not easy for me you know. I have no idea how to start..." Seeking help Nick looked pleadingly at his brother but Starsky was busy with arranging some books on the shelf.

"You know, when I was in jail, I learned the hard way that you have to be careful who to trust. I saw guys there who were involved with each other. A guy even wanted me to be his favorite, hmm, he wanted me to... suddenly I realized the difference. What you feel for my brother is an unselfish love; now I understand. I admit I've been jealous of your closeness, of your trust for each other.

"What I did to you, Hutch, is inexcusable. Pointing a weapon at you with the intent to pull the trigger... I know I've lost your respect. I don't dare to ask your forgiveness, but believe me, I would have never been able to do any harm to you."

At this point Nick couldn't go on. He felt he had jeopardized Hutch's friendship. And so he had lost his brother too. "Forgive me," he whispered, the words barely heard and turned to leave.

"Wait a moment," he heard Hutch's voice. Nick stood still, his head bent.

"You're my best friend's brother. So you can't be that bad. You should deserve another chance -- what do you think, Starsk?"

Starsky locked glances with Hutch -- there it was again, their silent communication. With amazement, and for the first time with pride, Nick watched the interaction between the two friends. How he would cherish to be part of their bond!

He gazed down at his bag, afraid of what his brother would say. He flinched when he suddenly felt an arm round his shoulder. Starsky pulled him close and drew him to the couch.

Hutch got up, a little clumsy; Starsky reached out for him and Nick couldn't believe it when Hutch's arm encircled him to share their embrace. Nick would never admit it to anyone that he lost it there -- but his tears were safe in the new found alliance.

The end

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