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Anniversary
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Artwork by Nicky Gabriel

ANNIVERSARY

“You have 24 hours to live, pig. Count them. 24 hours!” A maniac smile accompanied the whispered words. Something pulled at Starsky’s arm. He tried to free himself from the grip but in the next moment he felt the injection. He jerked and yelped.

 

“Help!”

 

Starsky woke up by his own voice. Sweat covered his face and he realized that the same nightmare had haunted him again: Being poisoned by Vic Bellamy one year ago. It had brought him near death and only Hutch’s insistent efforts had saved his life. Vivid memories let him relive that day.

 

After the first shock of Dr. Franklin telling him that he wasn’t going to make it because they wouldn’t be able to analyze the poison, Starsky and Hutch decided to fight against Starsky’s fate. During the day they had questioned Sweet Alice and had found the way to her former lover Janos Martini who ran a little porn studio. It had been a silly situation when they had forced him to laugh and Hutch almost dropped an expensive lens. When Janos finally pretended to laugh heartily, Starsky only shook his head, knowing that Janos wasn’t the one who had attacked him.

 

Starsky felt weak and his stomach ache had increased when they left the studio. Hutch couldn’t do anything but hold his partner assuring him that he wasn’t alone.

 

They didn’t give up hope believing that the cup was still “half full.”

Where was Al Wedell, one of the men they suspected of being capable of such a crime?

 

Supported by Hutch they returned to the precinct. Dobey called them into his office to tell them that Al Wedell had died three days ago. Their last hope was gone to find the man responsible in time.

 

Starsky remembered how discouraged he had felt at that moment. He had opened the drawer of his desk pulling out the little blue dog he got once at a fair. Little things that had little meaning to him now became a different sense. The soft toy reminded him of happy, untroubled days when he and Hutch had enjoyed their weekends alone or with their dates, having fun and being distracted from their hard job on the streets.

 

Hutch, who normally was the worrier, had been happy when he had been successful at the shooting gallery and had handed Starsky the blue soft dog.

“For you, it suits you!”

 

Starsky held the toy in his hand not knowing what to do with it now.

 

“Something to drink?” Hutch asked unsure of how to handle the situation. Starsky shook his head. And he remembered making the remark about the boots he would give his partner if they were cowboys. After that he had reached out his hand to take Hutch’s.

 

Later Hutch refused to defend himself when Vic Bellamy was about to shoot him on the roof. They needed Vic alive to know about the chemical composition of the poison. Starsky was able to shoot Bellamy to save his partner’s life.

 

“Why?” Hutch had only asked holding Starsky upright.

 

“Seemed to be a good idea at the time,” Starsky had mumbled. Then he was out.

 

 

Almost twenty-four hours were over, he was in the hospital again and felt that he was going to lose his life. He felt dazed but would never forget the love and fear in Hutch eyes when they locked glances and assured themselves in a silent conversation of their deep bond.

 

Starsky sighed. That he had survived at the last minute because his frantic partner had found out that Sheryl’s father was responsible for the poisoning was like a miracle.

 

Where would he be without his ever-protecting partner, the other half of his soul…

 

 

“Mornin’. It’s me,” he heard the familiar voice in the hall. Hutch had arrived. Soon he heard Hutch rummaging in the kitchen hopefully preparing something eatable for breakfast.   Starsky smirked, finally getting out of bed.

“Morning yourself, what’s for breakfast?” Starsky peeked into the kitchen, pulling up his pajama bottoms.

 

“Desiccated liver, bean sprouts,” Hutch smiled and Starsky knew that Hutch was joking.

 

“Wait, till I’m fully awake to give you the answer you deserve,” Starsky snorted and disappeared into the bathroom.

 

He emerged showered and shaved and was ready to enjoy the next week off. Dobey had insisted on the vacation, exchanging a knowing glance with Hutch. Starsky knew that their superior always cared for them. Starsky’s poisoning had frightened him to the core. He wanted his best detectives to mark the anniversary before the stressful job on the street would continue.

 

“First my car needs to be waxed,” Starsky explained taking a big bite from his buttered toast.

 

“Don’t think so, buddy,” Hutch answered smiling cryptically. He sipped from his coffee and kept Starsky on tenterhooks.

 

“Sure, I’ll wax my car. Ya know, my old lady looks a bit used and if you help me…” Starsky chewed slowly on his bread looking expectantly at his best friend.

 

“I’ll help you – to pack your suitcase.” Hutch said, a bright smile crossing his face.

 

“Here, take my cup and drink!” he ordered Starsky  who almost choked on his toast.

 

“Suitcase? What’re you talking about?”

 

“Starsk, may I tell you that you’ve got friends at the precinct and a special friend, owner of the Pits, who have decided to give you the deserved vacation after all that happened one year ago. What about spending a quiet week at a resort in Napa Valley, playing golf and tasting the wine of a lovely place? At least that’s what they say in the brochure Huggy gave me for you.”

 

Hutch noticed that the unbelieving expression on Starsky’s face changed into something declining.

 

“Something wrong?” Anxious about his friend’s behaviour Hutch reached over the table to tip Starsky’s chin up to look into his eyes.

 

“Tell me, what’s bothering you? It’s a nice gesture to show you  they care.”

Hutch was at a loss because of Starsky’s reaction.

 

Slowly Starsky looked up and an apologetic smile appeared on his face.

 

“It isn’t that I don’t appreciate what our friends are doing for me. It’s just that I can’t enjoy it really.”

 

“Why not, dammit?” Hutch was getting nervous. They had put so much effort into the whole plan and it was supposed to be a big surprise for his best friend. And now Starsky looked almost unhappy and not ready to take the present they offered him.

 

“Starsky cleared his throat.

 

You said it’s a present for me.  How can I go on a trip without the person who’s my backup?  I ain’t goin’ anywhere without you, pal . . .”

 

 

“Who says, I let you go alone? As you will remember, it’s me and thee, watching each other’s back, who do we trust time…” Hutch hadn’t finished yet when Starsky was behind Hutch tilting him with his chair backwards.

 

“Help!” Hutch yelped his long legs butting at the kitchen table. With a strong grip Starsky held the chair with Hutch in place. He bent over the chair and looked into his friend’s eyes.

 

“So you’re coming with me? Why didn’t you tell me?” He ruffled Hutch’s hair almost losing the hold on the chair with its precious burden.

 

“Where’s my suitcase? What sort of clothes do we need? When are we going to leave?” Starsky drew Hutch out of the chair rushing toward the bedroom. He wasn’t astounded to see Hutch’s packed bag next to the entrance door.

 

“If you hurry we can make it today to our first stop. The motel’s near San Vicente. We could be there in a couple of hours,” Hutch said following Starsky.

 

Starsky started to move from the closet to the suitcase to put shirts and jeans and some good pants into the suitcase. It ended with Starsky throwing the clothes over to Hutch who folded them and put them into the suitcase.

 

“Isn’t this my shirt?” Hutch mumbled once when the next load landed on his head.

 

“Hey, don’t worry, Blondie. Good friends share, don’t they? By the way, I’m ready. Let’s hit the road!”

 

There was no question that they would use the Torino. Hutch’s car had broken down recently for mysterious reasons. It would be safer this way. Starsky touched the hood of the bright red car and mumbled, “Sorry, you’ll get waxed as soon as possible.”

 

Hutch nodded. “We have enough pocket money for the trip and you can leave your car at one of the garages that specialize in taking care of cars.”

 

With a last pat on the roof, Starsky got into the car. Hutch took his place on the passenger’s seat. He opened the glove compartment and shoved a handful of brochures and maps inside.

 

“Ya know it’s going to be relaxing days, pal.”  Contented Starsky nudged  Hutch in his side.  All weeks of hard work lay behind them. He wouldn’t be haunted by these nightmares and for Hutch it would be a welcomed distraction. They would visit some wineries tasting wine and  at night they would have their beer at a pub. Maybe there was a chance to go dancing…

 

Starsky began humming a tune. He ad-libbed some lyrics about two friends on the road looking for their fortune. Hutch added his own lyrics and soon both men were happily repeating their little selfmade song.

 

At sunset they reached the picturesque village San Vicente with an old fashioned motel built against a hill, surrounded by palms and a little pool.

 

 

Chapter two

 

 

“Not too bad.” Approvingly Starsky looked around. “Seems that a little diner over there belongs to the motel. Don’t know about you, but I’m starving!” Starsky scrambled out of the car and stretched his limbs.

 

“‘kay, let’s check in and put our bags in our room. I could do with a good meal, too,” Hutch agreed.

 

While he went into the office Starsky unloaded their bags and was about to follow Hutch when he saw a young woman standing next to a car in the parking lot. He didn’t know why he kept his glance on her. Dark brown hair fell into her face as she fumbled with a key.

 

“Can I help you?” Starsky stepped nearer and put the bags down. Intense green eyes looked up at him sparkling with annoyance.

 

“Thanks, but I’m trying to get into my car and the damn key doesn’t fit!” She tried it again – without success.

 

“May I do it?” Confidently Starsky took the key from her hand and inserted it into the lock. He couldn’t turn it round.

 

“It seems you took the wrong key Miss…,” he smiled at her.

 

“Roberts, my name’s Roberts.” Confused, she shook her head.

 

“I’ve just checked in and left a bag in my car.”

 

She frowned.

 

“My God, this isn’t my car! My bag should be on the back seat.” Her gaze went around and she blushed deeply.

 

“My car is in the next row. It’s the same color and type. I thought… I’m so sorry, Mister…” 

 

“Starsky, but you can call me David.” Starsky couldn’t avert his eyes from her.

 

“You can call me Terry.” They both shook hands and startled hearing Hutch’s voice behind them.

 

“Did I miss anything?”

 

“Everything’s all right.” Starsky smiled, his eyes twinkling at Terry.

 

“This is Hu…, hm, I mean, Ken, my best friend and partner.” Starsky snaked his arm around Hutch’s waist and looked fondly at him.

 

“Nice to meet you,” Terry reached out her hand to take Hutch’s. She looked at both men making her own decision about them. She didn’t care about different lifestyles but felt a little sorry that the dark haired guy was inaccessible for her. He had his lover by his side.

 

She turned to leave till Starky reminded her: “Terry, you forgot something – your bag from the right car!”

 

“Thanks!” She blushed even more and approached her car in the next row.

 

“The right car?” Hutch whispered questioningly and Starsky made a meaningful gesture.

 

“Later. I’ll tell you later. Do you mind if I ask her to have dinner with us?” Starsky looked into Hutch’s grinning face.

 

“You’re the best!”

 

Terry took her bag out of her car and wondered why the two men were still standing on the parking lot looking expectantly at her.

 

“Miss Roberts, hm, Terry, would you have dinner with us? Or are you in company?” Starsky’s smile was irresistable and Terry nodded.

 

“Yes, why not.”

 

***

 

“Hutch, what do you think of her? Not too bad, is she?” Starsky let himself fall onto the full sized bed and put his hands behind his head.

 

“Something wrong with her car?” he heard Hutch ask from the bathroom and Starsky smiled. “She tried to open the wrong car. Could have been you.”

 

“Oh, then she’s my type obviously. Sorry for you, pal,” Hutch snorted emerging from washing up.

 

“You want to grab a shower or take a nap before we have dinner?” 

 

“Naah, only a little relaxing. Terry said she’ll have dinner about eight.” Starsky looked at his watch. “Time enough to see what’s on TV. Get some rest, Blondie.”

 

“Be right back,” Hutch said. “Just fetching some maps for tomorrow from the car.”

He was gone and Starsky switched the TV on searching through the channels.

 

When Hutch returned soft snoring came from the bed while the TV was still on.

Quietly Hutch sat down on his bed unfolding the maps to check their next day’s route.

 

***

 

“She’s sitting over there near the window!” Starsky pointed in the direction of where they’d entered the diner. Terry smiled when both men sat down opposite her excusing themselves for being late.

 

“Starsky’s always late. This time blame his hair on it. It’s still wet, isn’t it?” Hutch curled his finger round a wet ringlet onStarsky’s neck. Starsky had decided to take a shower in a rush after he’d woken up.

 

“No big deal, is it?” Starsky swatted Hutch’s hand off and beamed at Terry.

 

“What’re we gonna eat?”

 

Soon they had an opulent meal in front of them.

 

Starsky watched the woman as she told them about her trip to San Francisco where she was about to attend a course on disabled children. The way she spoke and smiled and put forward an opinion fascinated Starsky. He just wanted to ask her some more personal things when she addressed herself to them.

 

“And you’re living together – where?” She was curious, wanted to know if they were lovers. Puzzled glances came her way.

 

“These are two questions. We’re from Bay City and we have our own apartments but last year…” Hutch couldn’t go on. Forcefully he was remembered of the weeks, no months, after the poisoning when Starsky hadn’t slept at night. He hadn’t told Hutch and had gone to his apartment pretending he was fine. After some weeks he looked like death warmed over. The last straw was when they had been in a traffic jam and Starky’s head suddenly hit the steering wheel. He had fallen asleep. Hutch remembered Starsky’s embarrassment after Hutch had woken him up. Only then Starsky had admitted that he was afraid to be alone at night, always in fear of another attack or nightmares. Hutch had moved in with him, banishing the haunting nightmares by his mere presence.

 

“Hutch wants to say that I had a hard time last year,” Starsky helped out. “You know as police officers, shit happens. Now we’re on the way to Sonoma to relax a week.” He tried to lighten the mood and Terry understood that they were partners at the police department, not lovers.

 

“I was in Sonoma last year. It’s a place where you can enjoy the landscape, the wineries and where you can find the peace to recover.” Somehow Terry felt drawn to these two men. They came across as trusting people, especially the curly haired man seemed to be interested in her. All his attention was on her when she spoke, she realized.

 

“Excuse me,” Hutch got up from the table to go to the bathroom. Starsky was in good hands and he wanted to call Huggy to tell him that their plan had worked getting Starsky away from the job for a short time.

 

Waiting for the connection of the call, Hutch overheard a conversation at the bar.

 

“This is one of my best. Listen! There are two gangsters hanging around at a bar. Says one of them…” Hutch frowned. Something sounded familiar to him about the speaker. Then he spoke to Huggy and forgot about what he’d just heard.

 

On his way back to their table Hutch gazed at the bar – and couldn’t believe it! It must be Sammy Grovner with his lady sitting there and entertaining the barkeeper!

 

“Excuse me, but we know each other , don’t we?” Hutch stepped nearer and now he was sure that he had the old comedian Sammy Grovner in front of him, the man who was trapped with him and Starsky in the Italian restaurant when two gangsters had planned to kill Vic Monte and had shot Starsky instead.

 

“Sure, I know you. You’re the blond who bailed us out. Sammy, you remember the two cops, one of them got hurt badly and lay in the office. That crazy guy, Joey, had shot him.” The woman took Sammy Grovner’s arm and squeezed it tenderly.

 

Sammy’s face lit up recognizing Hutch.

 

“I remember, Mr…” He reached out his hand and Hutch took it.

 

“How’s your partner? We were worrying that he wouldn’t make it,” Sammy said softly and put his arm around the woman. She leaned against him and Hutch wondered if she had changed her attitude toward her old companion.

 

As if he had read Hutch’s mind, Sammy Grovner said:

 

“We got married last year. What happened in the restaurant helped us to rethink our life.”

 

His wife nodded and added:

 

“We aren’t performing in clubs. Sammy has written a book about his experiences and now we’re presenting it in libraries and in colleges – for the secondary growth.”

 

“Well, let me introduce you to my partner,” Hutch pointed to the table with Starsky and Terry Roberts. They agreed and soon they were all sitting together, listening to the old comedian who explained some tricks to them and told some jokes that raised a little smile on Hutch’s face and a big grin on Starsky’s. Terry now sat by his side and he enjoyed their body contact.

 

It was far past midnight when the little circle decided to split up.

 

“Thanks again for helping us,” Mrs Grover said gratefully to Hutch.

“And all the best to you,” she addressed to Starsky who held Terry close.

 

“Gentlemen, wait a moment.” Sammy Grovner fumbled in his bag and had a book in his hand. “I’d like to give it to you. Maybe you like to read about the life of an old guy and his tricks and performances during the years.”

 

“I’d really like it,” Starsky said receiving the book and leafing through it.

They said their goodbyes and watched the couple leave.

 

“Hutch, those were the people you told me about after the shooting. The lady who tried to get out of the restaurant by flirting with anybody, right?”

 

“Yeah, but she’s learned her lesson, I think,” Hutch said turning toward the exit.

Starsky and Terry followed him slowly. Outside it had cooled down and a fresh wind made them shiver. Protectively Starsky took off his jacket and put it over Terry’s shoulder.

 

“I’d like to see you again,” he said seriously. In the dark he was only able to catch a glimpse of a smile on her face. She reached into her bag, pulled out a piece of paper and wrote something on it.

 

“My phone number. And if I have a little time left after my course, maybe there’s a chance that I can come over to Sonoma for the weekend. Where are you staying?”

 

“I’ll ask Hutch. Be right back.” Starsky hurried after Hutch who had almost reached their room. Hutch gave him the name of the resort and noticed the spring in Starsky’s steps. He’s happy at last, Hutch thought and had to admit that it was time to go on with their lives, meeting women again and losing the fear of uncontrollable things. He looked back and smiled fondly at the sight of his friend standing close with a pretty woman and embracing her.

 

***

 

“Hum, it’s getting cold at night, I’m freezing my ass off!” Starsky rushed into the room closing the door.

“Was a nice evening, never expected to meet such interesting people.” Full of vim Starsk paced the room.

 

“Hey, come down, you make me dizzy running around like this,” Hutch said jokingly. He was already undressed and lay under the covers. The bedside lamp was on and gave just enough light to let him read in the book he had taken with him.

 

“You’re right, tomorrow is another day.” Starsky got rid of his clothes and dove under the covers. Hutch switched off the bedside lamp and turned on his side.

“Night, pal. And no nightmares!”

“Never when I‘m with you,” mumbled Starsky drawing the spread over his shoulders.

 

Hutch was almost asleep when he heard:

 

“Hutch?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Terry is nice, isn’t she?”

 

“Sure, though I thought she’s more my type. Ya know choosing the wrong car…” Hutch chuckled.

 

“Hutch?”

 

“Hm, what is it, buddy?” Hutch yawned broadly.

 

“First she wasn’t sure about us, I think. I mean when we said we were partners she gave us a look as if she believed..”

 

“…That we’re gay?” It was nothing new to them that people assumed they were involved with each other. They had always been touchy – feely and that they spoke of each other as “partners” often gave the wrong impression.

 

“I promise not to kiss you in front of her,” Hutch laughed, “unless you want to get rid of her.”

 

“Don’t you dare!” Starsky growled. Then it was still and Hutch heard Starsky breathe evenly.

Everything was okay and the next day they would reach their destination.

Hutch set the alarm and was asleep within seconds.

 

 

Chapter three

 

 

They were on the road again. Hutch was driving while Starsky was engrossed in Sammy Grovner’s memories.

 

“Did you know that he started as a magician? He’s explaining some tricks here, for example how to unleash yourself. Hey, I could impress the ladies with it…!”

 

“Starsk, keep in mind that not every lady likes bondage …” Hutch tried to remain serious and Starsky looked embarrassed.

 

“Sure, of course I would ask Terry before we…” Now he grinned mischievously and snapped his fingers. “We have a tow rope in the trunk. Tonight I’ll practice with you, p-a-r-t-n-e-r!” He wiggled his eyebrows and Hutch laughed heartily.

 

“Then I’ll tell Terry! By the way, don’t forget to enjoy the landscape. Isn’t that a vineyard over there?”

 

Starsky craned his neck. “Can’t wait to taste some wine. We should do this more often; getting away from all the shit we see on the streets and spend some time somewhere else. How can I thank all the guys at the precinct for their caring? I didn’t ask you about the costs. You know my account doesn’t look so well…” Starsky sounded worried.

 

“Don’t fret about it. Hug used his special connections as a travel agent, and our friends wanted to contribute and collected some money for us to attend a guided tour through a winery, including a three course dinner.” Hutch said.

 

Starsky gave a short whistle. He was sure though, that it was primarily Hutch’s money that made this trip possible. He put his hand on Hutch’s thigh, lingering there for a moment.

 

“You okay?” Hutch asked, glancing sideways, and Starsky nodded. No soapy scenes here!

 

“If you want me to drive for a change…” Starsky said instead, and Hutch agreed.

 

“Then I can look at the map and tell you the exact way. I think, if we use this road, it’s a little shorter.” They stopped, changed places and Starsky enjoyed the outlook. More vineyards came in sight and the late afternoon sun let the fields glow in a golden light.

 

Once, they took the wrong way and landed on a little sandy road. Abruptly Starsky stopped the Torino and got out of the car. Hutch waited patiently thinking his friend needed to take a leak.

 

“Hutch, c’me here, you gotta  try it!” Starsky said. Confused, Hutch left the car, and went over to  Starsky, who was standing in the second row of a vineyard.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Try these grapes. They taste quite sour though…”

 

“I don’t think it’s allowed,” Hutch muttered, taking some grapes out of Starsky’s hands.

 

“You’re right, they’re sour. But let’s move on now. It’s getting dark and a dinner is reserved for us.” He needn’t say it twice. Starsky was already heading to the car, and waited impatiently for Hutch.

 

Back in the car, Starsky went into reverse to drive back and braked hard after looking into the rear mirror.

 

“What’s up?” Hutch asked.

 

Starsky said: “There‘s a rover vehicle blocking the path.”

 

They kept their seats and watched a man get out of the car and approach them.

 

“Gentlemen, what’re you doing here? This is private property.” He sent a taxing glance through the open window.

 

“Sorry, we lost our way. Can you tell me where we are exactly?” Hutch showed him the unfolded map and the man looked a little friendlier.

 

“I’m Jake Hanson,” he said, extending his hand. “This is the Whitehall Lane Winery.

Where are you supposed to stay for the night? Maybe I can help you.”

 

After a short conversation, Hanson let them pass.

 

“Wow, I hope he didn’t see that I picked some grapes,” Starsky said.

 

“Yeah, he’s responsible that no one enters the winery without permission as he told us.”  Hutch leafed through their documents for the trip and whistled. “The Whitehall Lane Winery is where the guided tour takes place. Buddy, we’re almost there.”

 

It was dark when they arrived at an illuminated mansion, called “Silverado Resort”. A porter appeared at once to carry their bags and park the Torino.

 

“Looks exclusive, doesn’t it?” Starsky marveled. He followed Hutch into the lobby and saw comfortable suits and dimmed lamps that gave the impression of a high level establishment.

 

“The honeymoon suite was reserved for you. Maybe there was a misunderstanding.” The receptionist blushed lightly and Starsky couldn’t resist the remark: “Well, no problem for me. I’ll call Terry and we’ll find a little storeroom for you, partner.”

 

“Or the other way round!” Hutch countered, keeping in mind that he had to ask Huggy about it.

An elevator took them up to the second floor and it was an impressive sight that met them when they entered the room. On the right side there was a large area with comfortable seats, a couch and a coffee table. The flames of the fireplace bathed the room in a warm light.

 

“If this doesn’t work, I’ll never fall in love with you,” Starsky joked, and startled when he heard a cough behind him. The pageboy was standing there with their bags, waiting for a tip.

 

“Sorry. Here you are.” Hutch gave him his tip and closed the door.

 

“Hutch, honestly, we can never pay for this room,” Starsky said. Then, to the left, he noticed the only bed in the room; a double king-sized bed that occupied the far wall. “Where’s my bed?” Starsky hurried to the door next to the large bed. “Maybe here,” he mumbled and gave a cry of surprise. “Hutch! What’s this? Can’t be a bed, can it?”

 

“Dummy. It’s a Jacuzzi. Like an oversized bathtub, ya know,” Hutch peeked over Starsky’s shoulder, whistling approvingly.

 

Starsky looked around searchingly.

 

“Don’t bother! This is the honeymoon suite and that’s our bed. Capice?” Hutch pointed to the large bed, smiling, and Starsky let out his breath in a rush.

 

“It’s not that we haven’t shared a bed before,” Starsky admitted, thinking of the bad times when he had needed Hutch nearby. And when Hutch got addicted with heroin, it had been Starsky who had taken care of him, holding him in his arms till they both fell asleep. Hutch locked glances with his best friend and only nodded.

 

Silently they unpacked their bags. Then Hutch opened the door to a large balcony and stepped out. “Starsk, Sonoma must be over there. Can you see the lights?” Starsky joined him  - and started chuckling.

 

“Nervous before our “first” night?” Hutch teased and Starsky said unimpressed:

 

“D’you know this one? Little Mary and Tony are standing on a balcony looking over the darkness and watching the lights of the city. Says Little Mary: ‘Tony, would you like to see where they did surgery on my appendix?’ ‘Of course!’ Tony says. ‘Over there, where the lights are – it’s the Memorial hospital.’”

 

“And so?” Hutch asked.

 

“It’s a joke – from Sammy Grovner’s book!” Starsky looked disappointed when Hutch didn’t show the expected reaction. “Wait, I remember some more, gimme a minute,” Starsky said thinking hard.

 

“Stuff it and let’s have dinner,” Hutch ended the conversation rolling his eyes. That his partner could be entertained so easily…

 

The dinner left nothing to be desired. Contented, Starsky patted his belly and suppressed a yawn.

“I feel good, ya know that? What’re we going to do now?”

 

“We can take a walk to see the surroundings. It seems that the hotel belongs to the winery. Look at the pictures on the wall with the members of the DuPont family. Look at this one,” Hutch got up and pointed to a picture right next to their table on the wall. “ George DuPont. He must be the boss of all this.  The owner of the Whitehall Lane Winery and the Silverado Resort. And here it says he also owns an art gallery you can visit.”

 

“They must have made a lot of money with it,” Starsky added and got up too.

 

Together they walked outside following the driveway till they saw the illuminated sign: “Whitehall Lane Winery.”

 

“This is where the guided tour starts tomorrow,” Hutch said, remembering the information Huggy had given him about their activities during the week. “Oh, remind me to call Huggy and ask him about our suite.” Hutch closed his jacket. Though it was only late September the climate was different from Bay City.

 

“I’m freezing. You too?” he heard Starsky say, and he looked at his partner in a concerned way. Starsky had had the flu several times this last year. Since the poisoning, his body’s defenses had weakened and he had to take better care of himself to stay healthy.

 

“If you are, we should head back. Take a bath in the Jacuzzi and study your book in front of the fireplace. Tomorrow we’ll have our first wine-tasting,” Hutch said softly. He put his arm around Starsky’s shoulders and they walked back to the hotel entrance.

 

At one time, Starsky looked back as he felt he was being watched, but in the dark he couldn’t see anything strange. The bushes on both sides on the driveway looked almost black and only a few of them were illuminated. Did he see a shadow moving? Starsky shuddered and concentrated on the path in front of them.

 

“You okay?” Hutch asked and tightened his grip around his shoulders.

 

“No worries, Blondie,” Starsky answered, as they entered the bright lobby of the hotel.

 

***

 

“A Jacuzzi is something I could get used to.” Starsky emerged from the bathroom, dripping on the heavy carpets, as he draped a towel around his waist. “It’s your turn, babe,” he said affectionately, approaching Hutch and scattering enough droplets to get Hutch wet.

 

“Hey, you soaked my book!” Hutch objected, closed it and got up. Heading for the bathroom, he said: “I’ve put some more wood into the fireplace. Should be warm enough. And dry your hair!”

 

“Yes, mom,” Starsky chuckled. He rummaged through his bag for his pajamas. Normally he slept naked but he really didn’t feel so warm right now. Shit! He had forgotten to pack them. His briefs and a t-shirt would do. He changed and put on the white robe with the hotel insignia on it, and then slumped into the big armchair in front of the fireplace and looked into the flames.

 

Images of the past year crossed his mind. The poisoning hadn’t been the first close call for him. When he’d gotten shot in the Italian restaurant, he’d almost given up hope that they would get out of the mess alive. Thanks to his partner they had all survived and Robin, now Sammy Grovner’s wife, had expressed her thankfulness. Why did they always get into these dangerous situations? Stupid question! Starsky answered himself. It was their job that brought them close to the scum of the streets; gangsters who sought revenge, nuts and criminals, like Joey, who didn’t see a purpose in life. They were the risks their job brought about. Starsky sighed. How lucky he was that he had a partner who watched his back - who stayed by his side no matter who threatened his life. This vacation was a special gift and he planned to enjoy it to its fullest.

 

“You asleep?” Hutch’s soft voice near his ear startled him a bit, and he had the impression that he had really dozed off.

 

“Yeah, it’s so cozy in front of the fire.” A large hand tangled in his curls.

 

“Your hair is still wet,” Hutch said. “You didn’t dry it. Wait here.”

 

“No big deal,” Starsky mumbled, looking into the fire. He wasn’t surprised when he felt a towel draped around his head and soft massaging fingers rubbing his hair dry.

 

“Thanks. Anything to drink?”

 

“Of course. Chateau Whitehall,” Hutch exclaimed, holding a bottle in front of Starsky’s nose.

 

“Where did you get that?” Starsky was fully alert now.

 

“It was in the fridge. Just the right temperature.” Hutch opened the bottle and looked around for glasses.

 

“Over there on the shelf,” Starsky got up to fetch them.

 

“To a special occasion!” Hutch said, clinking his glass with Starsky’s.

 

“To a special person!” Starsky answered, and then they drank, Hutch perched on the arm of Starsky’s chair.

 

“By the way, I forgot my pj’s, what about you?” Starsky looked at Hutch’s bare legs in the white robe.

 

“Why? They’re in my bag. At least I packed them. You need mine? Are you still cold?”

 

“Nah, I think I’m gonna sleep in my briefs and a t-shirt, if that’s okay with you.” Starsky sounded a little insecure and Hutch laughed.

 

“Doesn’t matter at all, buddy. Are you up to a little game?” Hutch looked into his bag again and brought out the monopoly game.

 

“Hey, I can’t believe it! How long has it been since we played?” Starsky was excited and soon the floor in front of the fireplace was covered with paper money and little figures and houses and hotels, and the next hours flew by. The bottle became empty and at last Starsky had to admit that he had lost the game.

 

“Tomorrow I’ll get revenge!” Starsky was sure.

 

While Hutch packed the game away, Starsky went to the bathroom. He felt a little drowsy and lightheaded, probably because of the wine. But he felt good. One year earlier his life had almost ended. There was no future, no hope – and now he had survived one more year. And his partner was still by his side, watching his back.

 

Back in the luxurious room, Starsky shed the robe and dove under the silken covers.

 

“Hutch?”

 

Nobody answered and Starsky got worried.  If Hutch wasn’t in the room it meant he had gone to get something, maybe the brochures from the car. But he would have told Starsky about it.

 

Starsky got out of the bed, and paced through the large room. He checked Hutch’s bag and saw that his pajamas were still in it. Where had Hutch gone this late? It was after midnight. Starsky’s heartbeat went up. The concern for his partner always had the same impact on him. Then he saw that the door to the balcony was ajar. He stepped nearer and opened the door. It took a while till his eyes had adjusted to the darkness.

 

“Hutch?” he said lowly and finally he heard the familiar voice from the right.

 

“What’re you doing outside? You must be freezing.” In two strides Hutch was by his side, feeling the goosebumps on Starsky’s skin when he touched him.

 

“Didn’t know where you were,” Starsky said, feeling embarrassed, while Hutch led him back into the warm room.

 

“Just wanted to take in some fresh air.” Hutch said. “C’mon, let’s go to bed.”

 

He made sure that Starsky was tucked in securely, then undressed himself and lay down on his side of the bed.

 

“You still cold?” Hutch asked and Starsky shook his head. Hutch switched off the lamp; only the light from the fireplace let him see the outline of the furniture of their suite.

 

It bothered Hutch that Starsky hadn’t regained his old self confidence yet. In the past, he had been the tough cop never fearing what could happen. Then there was the shooting in the Italian restaurant and, one year ago, Bellamy’s assault. It was as if Starsky depended more on him than ever before, but Hutch was willing to fulfill this need. He turned onto his side facing Starsky. The dark curls stood out from the white pillow and Starsky seemed to be asleep. The covers had slid down his shoulders and Hutch carefully reached over and pulled them up. Starsky made a little appreciative sound that made Hutch smile. He let his hand linger on Starsky’s shoulder. Soon he was asleep, too.

 

 

Chapter four

 

 

I hope the tour hasn’t started yet,” Hutch hissed, crossing the lobby in a double quick stride. Starsky followed trying to arrange his disheveled curls. Who was to blame for oversleeping?

 

When Starsky had woken up it hadn’t bothered him that it was nine thirty. They had all the time in the world and a breakfast buffet would be waiting for them long enough. He had trudged into the bathroom to take care of business. He was still tired and longed for a little more sleep. He crawled back into bed snuggling up into the soft covers.

 

 Hutch stirred, opened his eyes and looked around. The sun was shining through the light curtains; it was going to be a nice day. The guided tour through the winery was booked for today. Hutch turned around and smiled at the sight of his partner curled up next to him. Obviously Starsky had had a good night without any nightmares. Then his gaze fell on the alarm clock on the nightstand.

 

He frowned. He had in mind that the tour through the winery started at ten am. Half an hour time to get up, have a shower, have breakfast – impossible.

 

“Starsk, we’ve to get up – pronto!” He nudged his friend, with the result that Starsky only dove deeper under the covers.

 

“I’m tired,”

 

Hutch heard the muffled sound. “Sorry, pal, but we shouldn’t miss the tour!”

 

Hutch got up and hurried to the bathroom. Hopefully Starsky was awake when he returned.

 

Far from it! Starsky had occupied the bed lying diagonally on it. Hutch sighed. Plan B was required.

 

Hutch drew the covers back and ran his fingers in a feather like touch up Starsky’s back.

“Don’t worry, it’s only a little spider, none of those hairy ugly things …”

 

With a cry, Starsky jumped up, thrashing around.

 

“Now you’re awake, aren’t you?” Hutch smiled cheerfully.

 

“You’re mean!” Starsky looked up and down his body to check for unbidden insects. He fled into the bathroom when Hutch pretended to find his ticklish spot.

 

And now they were in the lobby, without breakfast, without any coffee, half asleep… Starsky bumped into Hutch. “Why’d you stop?”

 

“Don’t know where the group is.” Searchingly, Hutch looked round.

 

“You belong to the guided tour, gentlemen?” The receptionist pointed to a large door. “It starts in the Blue Room.”

 

“Thanks.” Starsky let Hutch go first.

 

About twenty people looked at them curiously as they entered the room. Hutch nodded to the man on the podium. “Sorry for being late,” he mumbled. They found two seats in the back row and sat down with a sigh of relief.

 

“Reminds me of our first day at the Academy. We were late… you because you had missed your train and I,” Starsky coughed lightly, “had overslept.”

 

“Yeah, some things never change,” Hutch whispered.

 

They looked at the man standing in front of the group. He was in his sixties. White hair, neatly combed, and a dark blue suit gave him an impressive appearance.

The golden buttons of his club jacket sparkled in the morning sun.

 

“Add some insignias and he looks like an officer of high rank,” Starsky said lowly.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce myself to you before the tour through the winery starts. My name is George DuPont. We’re leading this business into the third generation. You will have the opportunity to taste exquisite wines. We’ve gotten some remarkable awards for our products – before I forget: For those who are interested, I’m proud to present my art exhibition to you in the adjoining room. The paintings are purchasable except one original from Picasso. He gave it to me when he stayed here for the summer some years ago.”

 

“Not at all boastful and self-important,” Starsky whispered.

 

“Yeah, very simpatico,” Hutch replied.

 

“…Mr. Hanson will lead you now through the winery, and I’ll see you at the picnic we’ve arranged next to the vineyard about lunch time…”

 

The visitors clapped politely and moved to the exit door. Mr. DuPont watched them leave and Starsky was struck by the glance the owner threw at him.

 

“Hutch, did you notice the way he looked at us? We were late, but…” A growl was to be heard and Starsky patted his stomach.

 

“Hey, calm down, picnic is soon,” he talked to himself and Hutch noted: “Just a couple of hours, buddy.”

 

They followed Mr. Hanson through the morning sun along wide paths till in front of them the large entrance to the winery came in sight.

 

Darkness surrounded the group when they entered the arches. They were led through different rooms, and Mr. Hanson explained to them the production and storing of the precious wines. Hutch inhaled the air. It reminded him of his parents’ wine-cellar with its special, hard to define, odor.

 

Starsky tugged on Hutch’s sleeve.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m not feeling so good. Feel dizzy, think I have to sit down,” Starsky said and he sagged down.

 

“Whoa buddy, come on, relax.” Concerned Hutch looked at his friend, noticing the sweat-beaded face.

 

“What’s wrong?” He crouched near his partner on the hard floor running his hand up and down Starsky’s arm.

 

“Can’t keep going. You gotta tell Mr. Hanson,” Starsky said and both saw that the group had disappeared around the next corner.

 

“You know what? I think it’s your empty stomach that makes you feel so weak,” Hutch assumed. “I feel a little strange myself. So let’s get you outside and go back to have something to eat first.”

 

“What about the tour?” Starsky asked a little embarrassed.

 

“We can explain it later. Can you get up?”

 

“Just a moment.” Starsky took deep breaths. After a while his vision cleared and with a nod he let Hutch pull him up, grateful for his friend’s strong arms supporting him.

 

“I’m such a baby,” Starsky chided himself. Hutch tightened his grip on his partner and very slowly they made their way back through the dark corridors toward the exit.

 

“Hey listen,” Starsky paused and gazed down a large hall to the right. “Thought I heard footsteps. Can’t be the group.” He shivered, suddenly remembering that he had had a vision the day before of being watched.

 

“Don’t worry.” Hutch said reassuringly. He opened the door and ushered his friend into the bright sunlight.

 

“How’re you feeling now?”

 

“Better already. Only need something to eat,” Starsky walked very slowly towards the hotel. Resting several times to catch his breath, they finally entered the lobby.

 

“Sit down here. Be back right away.”

 

Starsky slumped down in the soft leather armchair, glad that he had gotten away from the sickened atmosphere in the winery.

 

“Here you are.”

 

Starsky’s eyes went wide. On a tray was a big slice of pizza, next to it a root beer. On the other side a sandwich and a glass of milk.

 

“Your choice.” Hutch smiled and put the tray on the coffee table in front of them.

 

“Hope you don’t mind.” A grin spread over Starsky’s pale face and he took the pizza and dug in. After downing half of the root beer Starsky looked at Hutch who had finished his sandwich and was savoring the cold milk.

 

“What did you do to get these wonderful things?” Starsky asked, taking another bite from his pizza.

 

“Had to play up to the cook,” Hutch stated dryly and watched amused when Starsk almost choked on the last mouthful.

 

“The cook?”

 

“Yeah, she’s not that bad.” Hutch finished with his milk, leaving a white moustache on his upper lip.

 

“You’re a clever shit – but I love you anyway,” Starsky snorted and motioned to Hutch to wipe the milk off his lip.

 

“Now we need to join the group again – except they’re still in the winery.” Starsky stretched and Hutch noticed that the paleness on his friend’s face had gone.

 

“As far as I know the next thing is a walk through the vineyard. And then there will be a picnic.”

 

“Then off we go!” Enthusiastically Starsky jumped up and reached out to pull Hutch upward, too.

 

“Look, Mr. DuPont is at the reception desk. Maybe we should ask him where exactly the tour is heading to?” Hutch said, but Starsky drew him to the exit.

 

“We’ll find it by ourselves, pal. Come on.”

 

Starsky couldn’t get out of the lobby fast enough. He had the dim feeling that Mr. DuPont had it in for him. But he couldn’t imagine why. They had been late for the guided tour, on the other hand it wasn’t comparable to any important briefing.

 

They hurried past the winery and followed the trail up to the vineyards. Finally they heard voices and rounding the next corner they saw the group holding grapes in their hands.

 

“Hey, there you are!” Starsky shouted. Again curious eyes looked at both men.

“Sorry, but we had to deal with a problem,” Hutch explained shortly.

 

Chatting with the other people they were led through the vineyard, were allowed to taste some grapes, and got interesting information about how the DuPonts ran their business.

 

A Foundation had been formed to take care of young people who had come into conflict with the law. The DuPont family had built a camp not far from the residence where the young people could learn a job and learn how to deal with life. In the fall they helped with the vintage and could earn some additional pocket money.

 

Starsky listened, impressed. When he was young he had hung around with his friends in Brooklyn, New York. There hadn’t been big chances that you could flee the wrong circles.

It had been the reason that Rachel Starsky had sent him out to California to live with his Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al.

 

Pensively Starsky looked down, absorbed in thought. Unconsciously, Hutch let his hand linger on Starsky’s back.

 

“It’s a good idea with the foundation, don’t you think?” Hutch tried to distract his friend.

 

“Yeah, you’re right. D’you think Nicky’s fine?”

 

Hutch sighed and removed his hand from Starsky’s back. Nick, Starsky’s younger brother, was the weak point in the Starsky family. He still made Starsky responsible for being left behind. Whenever they met, he reiterated that he had needed his brother, had longed to be with him – but Starsky had chosen to go to LA. Since then, Nick’s lifestyle had caused enough trouble for all of them. Not being able to lead an honest life, he had urged his older brother to assist him with money. On the other hand, he pretended to be involved in some big business. Starsky had believed him; at least Nick was his younger brother, and he loved him.

 

One disappointment had followed another. Hutch suffered with his friend who refused to acknowledge what kind of brother Nick was.

 

Nick hadn’t even visited Starsky during his recovery, had only called several times to show off his qualities with the “chicks” as he called his acquaintances.

 

“This camp could have been the right place for Nicky,” Starsky mused. He knew that Hutch couldn’t stand Nick and that they had had fierce arguments about how to treat Starsky’s younger brother. Hutch had realized very soon what Nick had in mind when he dropped in, pretending that he cared for his older brother. He had to hide from a guy he owed thousands of bucks to or he needed Starsky to bail him out from any obscure business.

 

Anyhow, Starsky had kept faith with Nick. Honestly said, he felt guilty that he couldn’t have been there for his younger brother. He himself had fought against being sent away from home, remembered that he hadn’t come home one night. But in the end he had to give up.

 

“Hey, don’t you think so? Would have been good for Nicky,” Starsky repeated and looked over to Hutch.

 

What he saw made him cringe. Love, concern and the willingness to protect him could be seen in Hutch’s eyes.

 

Starsky was aware that the most important person in his life wasn’t Nick, but the man by his side. Unconsciously he leaned into Hutch, savoring the closeness of his best friend.

 

He concentrated on Hanson again who was pointing into the distance and saying: “When you look north you can imagine where the new golf course is. Whenever you feel tempted to try your luck you’re invited to play some golf – it’s free for the guests of the hotel. Hope you enjoyed the tour so far - and now we have arranged a picnic for you. The weather is on our side and you can choose the wine you’d like to taste!”

 

Approving comments were made as the group followed Hanson along a small path, and then they could see a large pavilion where benches and a long set table invited them to eat and drink.

 

Starsky rubbed his hands looking at the delicious food they offered.

 

“You’re insatiable, aren’t you?” Hutch smiled. He wasn’t hungry at all, but to sample wines was appetizing enough. Soon they were enjoying the picnic under a light blue sky and a warm breeze.

 

“Try this wine, it’s even getting better and better!” Starsky beamed at Hutch, his face flushed from the good food and several glasses of wine.

 

“What about this one?” Hutch countered and they clinked glasses, not needing to explain what this trip meant to both of them. Still alive and being able to relax in a luxury place.

 

“Haven’t seen the boss of the winery, Mr. DuPont,” Hutch stated leaning back into his chair.

 

“Don’t need him,” Starsky mumbled, taking a last sip from his wine.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, when you have finished, I want to thank you for having booked our guided tour. I hope you got a lot of useful information about our business. Our wine shop is open till late evening. So if you want to add some excellent wines to your own wine cellar, don’t hesitate to order some. Mr. DuPont gives his best regards to you and excuses himself for not being present right now. He’s occupied with the big charity performance that takes place tomorrow. Follow the main path back to the hotel, but if you like, feel free to walk around the estate. Bye.”

 

Hanson collected the tips and Starsky nudged Hutch to look for some money in his pockets. Then the group made from the pavilion using mostly the main path.

 

“Hey, what about climbing up that hill and having a view over the countryside?” Starsky was already halfway up the elevation. Hutch followed in long strides.

 

“From here you have a great view! Settle down!” Starsky lay down on the soft ground braced on an elbow.

 

“You tired, buddy?” Hutch smiled sitting down by his friend’s side.

 

“Far from it!” Starsky explained, at the same time suppressing a yawn.

 

He looked over the vineyards assimilating the peaceful atmosphere.

 

“Hutch, now I understand why you love the outdoors. At a place like this you get distracted from the daily grind. The air smells like grapes and the sky is the color of…your eyes.” Starsky chuckled and rested his head against Hutch’s thigh. Hutch got the impression that Starsky was falling asleep.

 

Shifting a little, Hutch got more comfortable. In a protective gesture, he laid his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. His mind went back to his childhood, when he had stayed outside to flee the lonely atmosphere in the house. The demands of his parents’ social life had left little time for him. So he had spent hours alone in the surroundings of the large estate, wishing for something that could bring him out of his loneliness. During vacations he and his little sister, Karen, had been invited by their grandfather to stay on his farm. There, Hutch was surrounded by loving people. His grandpa had told him that one day Hutch would find a real friend and that he should never give up hope to make his dreams come true.

 

Hutch looked down at his sleeping friend. His grandpa had been right. Hutch had stood up to his father and had decided to attend the police academy instead of continuing medical class. The rest was history.

 

There was a rustling behind him and Hutch turned around to see a rabbit disappearing in its burrow. Disturbed by the movement, Starsky lifted his head and looked confused at Hutch.

 

“Don’t tell me I fell asleep.” Slowly he sat up and got to his feet, ran his fingers through his disheveled hair and reached out a hand.

“Let’s head home, okay? By the way, I’d like to have a look at the golf course. Maybe tomorrow we could try our luck.”

 

He helped Hutch to get up and they turned in direction of the golf course.

 

“If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to have a look at the paintings Mr. DuPont mentioned earlier. You remember the Picasso and some other rarities?” Hutch proposed.

 

When he noticed Starsky’s indecision he said: “Hey, why not doing what each of us wants? You search out the golf facilities and I’m choosing the painting you’re gonna give me for Christmas, right?” Hutch grinned at Starsky and got the expected answer. “In your dreams!”

 

They parted, Starsky with a map from Hutch in his hands to find his way back, and Hutch looking forward to visiting the art exhibition.

Starsky unfolded the map. Examining it, he saw that he should keep to the right, past the hotel up a hill. He breathed the clear air and cherished the sun on his skin. It was a wonderful late summer day and if it continued to be this warm the next day they could try their hands at golf.

Starsky whistled the tune they had sung in the car on their way to a carefree week in Sonoma when he sensed something strange. It was as if someone was following him.

 

He looked back down the path but couldn’t see anybody. He walked a little faster hoping that he could escape the strange sensation. The golf course wasn’t in sight yet. Hedges lined the path on both sides. Starsky’s sixth sense told him that he wasn’t alone, that there must be someone watching him like the first day when they had made a walk in the dark.

 

He cursed himself for not having taken his Beretta. It lay safe in the bottom of his bag.

Maybe his fears were unfounded and he should relax…

“Stop!” A sharp voice came out of a bush on the right. Starsky stopped walking and his heartbeat went up.

 

 

Chapter five

 

 

In the next moment he was grabbed from behind, and his arms were drawn painfully behind his back.

 

“What’s…” Starsky knew it was useless to talk. He began to fight, kicking with his feet and pushing his head back. It was in vain. When he tried to turn around to see his attacker, a cloth was put over his eyes and tied securely behind his head. Then his hands were bound together behind his back.

 

“Good job, boy. Now let’s get him… you know where...”

 

Starsky could hear an answering grunt from behind, and he knew that there had to be at least two men. What was going to happen to him? He was pushed forward roughly and stumbled over something. He fell in the mud, hitting the ground. Giving out a cry of pain, he received a round of hysterical laughter. His face hurt like hell and he could smell blood on his lips. Someone kicked him in the side and forced him to get up again. Catching his breath Starsky stumbled forward, not knowing where to go. He fell once more, feeling the pain of stones and branches digging into his legs. If he shouted maybe someone would hear him and call for help…

 

“No word or I shoot you right away!”

 

He was kicked again, and now he forgot to be cautious. “What’s going on here?” he dared to ask, before something hard hit him and he lost consciousness.

He awoke to the sound of a driving car. He was still blindfolded, and he noticed that his hands and legs were tied too. He couldn’t move. Obviously they had cooped him up in the trunk. The car wasn’t driving fast; Starsky had the impression as if they drove through bumpy terrain. He tried to shout – and almost panicked when he felt his taped mouth. He forced himself to calm down and think of Hutch who was enjoying the paintings in the exhibition now. If he knew…

 

Starsky moaned and tried to shift a bit to lessen the pain of his bruised body. He had no idea why they had kidnapped him. There was no money behind his family. Perhaps it was a former criminal he’d arrested who sought revenge.

 

The car stopped. Starsky decided to fake unconsciousness. Maybe there was the chance they’d talk about the reason for his kidnapping.

 

The trunk was opened and after a pause he heard, “He’s still out. You want me to make him speak?”

 

“That’s my affair. Just get him inside. I’ll take care of him later.”

 

Starsky was lifted out of the car and carried over uneven ground. Then the man stopped with his burden for a moment before he went on walking. Starsky smelled a different kind of air. It reminded him at once of the inside of the winery they had visited that morning. It seemed to be long ago. He was thrown onto the ground, landing on something soft. It could be a mattress, Starsky assumed. Then he heard words that made him moan loudly in protest.

 

“Now you’ll be left alone and YOU’ll see what it’s like! Have much fun!”

 

He heard the sound of a closing door; then silence flooded the place. Starsky fought the feeling of hopelessness, but couldn’t avoid some tears of despair that wet the cloth over his eyes.

 

***

 

Hutch had walked around the exhibition cherishing the exquisite pieces of art. He remembered a time in his life when he had painted, just for fun. As a college student he had taken classes in art and had shown a certain talent. That had been a long time ago. He should fancy this hobby again. When they went back to Bay City, he would show Starsky his old paintings. He was sure his friend would support him to start painting again.

 

Hutch decided to leave the exhibition to see if Starsky had already returned. He saw a young woman standing, like a guard, in the doorframe that led to another room. Hutch looked at her and felt encouraged by her responding smile. He asked: “Something I’ve missed?”

 

“It depends. If you’re interested in the works of Picasso, you may have a look at the original we have in our exhibition.”

 

She pointed into a small room that was dark except for one light that illuminated a single picture. Hutch stepped inside and had to admit that it was an impressive painting, full of colors that expressed a joie de vivre.

 

“I like it,” Hutch said, and the young woman, with the dark brown hair and sparkling green eyes, nodded.

 

“It’s the same with me. Looking at this painting, I feel good. Everything that could possibly bother me just goes away when I see it. My father is very proud of it, and I’m helping him to take care of the guests who want to see it.”

 

“Your father? Does that mean you are Miss DuPont, daughter of the owner of the winery?” Hutch looked astounded at the woman who smiled mischievously back.

 

“Hope you don’t have any objections concerning that.”

 

“Not at all!” Hutch suddenly felt as if he could embrace the entire world. The magic of the Picasso original obviously made an impact on him.

 

“Miss…?”

 

“Call me Marie,” she said, leading him to a bench in the room. “Just wait a moment, okay? I’ll be right back.”

 

She left him and he sat there grinning like an idiot, but he felt happy and relaxed. She seemed to be very friendly and the way she had talked and smiled at him…

 

“I want to give you some information about our charity performance next Friday. Every year my father invites the most important people from California to raise money for our youth camp. We plan to extend our activities and build more of these camps to help people in need. Here’s an invitation for you. Normally you wouldn’t be allowed to attend the party, but in this case I would be happy to see you there.”

 

He couldn’t resist her smile but had to object: “You know, I’m not a millionaire in disguise. I’m a detective with the Bay City police force. But it could be useful to hear more about the project...”

 

She quirked an eyebrow. “I’m impressed, Detective…?”

 

Hutchinson, but call me Ken,” he said, shaking hands with her. Then he added, “oh, I almost forgot, do you have another invitation? I’m here with my partner and friend and maybe he would like to join us.”

 

“No problem.” There was that beautiful smile again.

 

They left with the promise to have lunch the next day. For a moment he felt guilty for having a date with a pretty woman. Starsky would feel left behind. On the other hand, Starsky had met a new acquaintance by himself, and it looked as if Terry would come over the next weekend. So everybody would be happy.

 

“Buddy, I can tell you, I’ve just…”

 

Hutch was sure to find Starsky in their suite when he opened the door and found the room dark. Assuming his friend was taking a nap Hutch teased; “Hey, sleeping beauty, didn’t you get enough rest during the day?” He walked over to the large bed. It was unused and Hutch frowned. He checked their clothes and knew that Starsky hadn’t come back in the meantime. Obviously he had extended his visit to the golf course. It was dark outside, but if there was a clubhouse, Starsky would have forgotten about the time and was entertaining himself listening to stories of the golf players.

 

Hutch decided to take a hot shower and get changed before their dinner. The warm water relaxed him, and he was sure that Starsky would appear any minute. When he heard a knock on the door, he quickly put a towel around his waist and hurried to welcome his friend back.

 

“Starsk, where… Oh, sorry.”

 

In front of him was the hotel boy holding a card toward him.

 

“From Miss DuPont. Another invitation for Friday.”

 

“Hm, thanks. Can’t give you a tip right now. Later, okay?” Hutch smiled a little embarrassed and closed the door.

 

Suddenly he felt an alarming sensation of apprehension. Starsky still wasn’t back and t was about 8 pm now. He had to look for him. Dressed in comfortable corduroys and a black turtleneck, Hutch was about to leave the room, when he remembered needing the key for the Torino. He found the spare key in Starsky’s bag.

 

He couldn’t get to the car fast enough and refused the valet’s offer to retrieve it. He only stopped in the lobby to get a map of the surroundings from the desk clerk at the reception. He had no problems to find his way and soon the illuminated clubhouse came in sight. It was just around the corner of the hotel and Hutch thought that he could have walked he distance.

 

He entered the establishment and saw that it was still crowded. Almost every table was occupied. Hutch looked around and his heart skipped a beat when he saw a dark-haired man at the corner of the bar drinking his beer. Hutch approached the man – and knew it wasn’t Starsky. Now he addressed to the barkeeper asking for a curly dark-haired man.

 

“Mister, I’m not sure. A short time ago there was a man that fit your description. He spent some time talking to another guest; then he left. Don’t know if that’s the man you’re looking for, though.”

 

Disappointed Hutch walked around asking some other guests if they had seen Starsky. He got some hints that there had been a man resembling Starsky, but they didn’t remember, if he was in company or not, when he had left.

 

Hutch left the clubhouse and sat in the car for a while, thinking about what to do next. He came to the conclusion that he was panicking. What if Starsky had been invited to another bar or restaurant?

 

Hutch drove back to the hotel. There was a small hope left that Starsky had arrived in the meantime, but when Hutch sat down in the restaurant to have dinner, Starsky hadn’t shown up. Hutch’s appetite was gone. He only nibbled on his salad and the wine tasted sour.

 

He stepped outside the hotel afterwards, walking around, and every time a silhouette appeared he started to shout “Starsk..?” Strangers looked at him and he bent his head, embarrassed.

 

He went back to their suite, tried to calm down, and read his book. He realized that he was reading without catching the content. His thoughts were on his partner’s whereabouts.

 

He got up again and paced the large room listening to every noise in the corridor. Several times he opened the door imagining he had heard footsteps. Nothing.

 

He ended up sitting on the balcony observing the hotel area, waiting for Starsky.

 

***

 

Starsky squirmed on the mattress trying to get rid of the ropes that tied up his arms and legs. It was as useless as trying to free himself from the cloth that still blinded him.

 

It must have been hours ago that they had carried him into this room. The smell made him sick and Starsky feared that he might suffocate if he had to vomit. He couldn’t cry out because of his taped mouth and he hadn’t heard any noise from outside.

 

His face was sweat-beaded and he didn’t know how long he could withstand the need of his bladder to be relieved.

 

 

Soon he would have to piss his pants. What a mess! If nobody would take care of him…

 

Starsky held his breath. Had he heard footsteps or was he hallucinating already? A cold wind touched his face and he shivered. He heard a dull noise and someone approaching. Starsky moaned to express his bad condition.

 

The tape over his mouth was removed and he hissed out: “Need to pee!”

 

“Well, well, what’s the hurry! You don’t feel comfortable? I feel so SORRY for you!”

 

The sarcastic tone made Starsky call out: “Don’t you hear? You want me to piss my pants? Then you can tidy up the mess!”

 

After a short pause the voice said: “Yeah, you’re right. I hate taking care of other people’s shit!”

 

Slowly his hands and feet were untied.

 

“No wrong movement, I warn you!” The voice was near his ear and Starsky drew back. He only wished to relieve himself and didn’t object when he was pushed ‘till the voice said: “Stop now. In front of you is an old two holer.”

 

Starsky unbuckled his belt and unzipped his jeans with trembling fingers. A moan escaped his throat when he was finally able to pee. He didn’t care if he was observed. Afterward he felt a little better and took a deep breath.

 

His arms were taken again and he felt the rope around his wrists. “Can’t you leave me untied? I won’t flee, I promise!” Starsky tried to make conversation, hoping to get more information about this absurd situation.

 

“You and promises? Don’t make me laugh! Back to the bed!” Not too gently Starsky was guided to the mattress. He slumped down on it. Then he said, “I’m not sure what this is all about. At least you could take the cloth off my eyes. They’re hurting already and besides I know where we are. It must be one of the arches of the winery. It smells like that.”

 

He got no answer.

 

“Hey, I’m talking to you.” Starsky repeated his request till he noticed that he was alone again.

 

“Come back, please! I need something to drink!” Starsky begged. His throat felt like a desert. It was sore and it sickened him. At least he wasn’t gagged anymore and maybe if he cried, and called for help, someone might hear him.

 

Hutch… He longed for the presence of his partner, imagined Hutch’s soothing hands on his back. He had always complained when Hutch had mother-henned him. Now he would have appreciated the way Hutch took care of him when he was hurt or felt upset.

 

It was different when he had arrived in LA as an adolescent. He had played the tough guy, maintaining the attitude he’d had in Vietnam. There was no other way to survive mentally. He remembered his first days at the police academy when he was partnered with a light blond guy from the Midwest. His dressed-up appearance had made Starsky laugh at that guy called Hutchinson. The name alone said it all. A boring type with a wealthy background – no one Starsky would mess around with.

 

They were assigned to share a room and Starsky hated the untidiness Hutchinson preferred to his own way to neaten his place.

 

Then there was the incident on the sports field. They had sprinted in fast mode and Starsky was faster than all the others. Shortly before the finish line he had twisted his ankle and had gone down. He lay on the ground his face wreathed in pain when a large hand settled over his ankle.

 

“You need to see the doctor to get your ankle stabilized.”

 

Light blue eyes were looking at him full of concern. Hutchinson! Starsky swallowed a nasty remark. It was odd, but the warmth of the hand on his ankle felt good, it lessened the pain. He took the offered hand to get up from the ground and together they had walked over to the attending paramedic.

 

As if a spell was broken they had started talking in earnest to each other, had shared stories about their childhood and school times.

 

Hutchinson mentioned his grandfather who had been the caring member in the family. When he spoke about the death of his granddad, he looked so sad that Starsky had put his arm around Hutchinson’s shoulder.

 

“Don’t be sad… Hutch,” Starsky had used the nick name for the first time. Since then, they called each other Starsky and Hutch.

 

“Hutch… please find me soon. I don’t know what this creepy guy has in mind. Don’t feel so good… Help.”

 

Exhausted Starsky fell asleep, not noticing when someone entered the arch and looked down at him, an indefinable expression on his face.

 

 

Chapter six

 

 

Thursday morning Hutch awoke and immediately felt the tiredness of an almost sleepless night. He reached out his hand to check the other side of the bed – Starsky wasn’t there. He felt desperate and lonely. Clutching Starsky’s pillow he tried to catch a breath of Starsky’s scent. Where are you, Starsk? He repeated the question over and over.

 

Should he call Dobey, informing him that Starsky was missing? If Starsky was enjoying himself with a beautiful lady it would sound ridiculous if Hutch was worrying. On the other hand, Starsky would have informed him if he decided to stay out for the night.

 

Hutch sat up sorting his thoughts. He would scour the surroundings first. Then he had to call the police of Sonoma and inform the hotel manager of Starsky’ absence.

 

Hutch got up, showered and shaved, and took two aspirins to fight an upcoming migraine. Half an hour later he was ready to look for his friend again.

 

He followed the way to the winery up to the fork where they had parted the day before. Starsky had turned to the left. Hutch did the same, looking for any signs or traces of Starsky’s presence.

 

He had walked until the winery was out of sight when the landscape became a little rougher. Hedges, on both sides of the path, hid the view of the area behind.

 

Hutch slowed down and looked carefully. Something was moving behind a bush and Hutch bent down to examine the spot. It was a hedgehog making noises.

 

“Have you seen my partner?” Hutch asked jokingly, when he saw something colored and half-torn in the next bush..

 

It was a map like that one he had given Starsky to find his way the day before.

 

Hutch got the wet map; obviously it had rained recently. They could take fingerprints anyway and prove that Starsky had lost it – maybe in a fight.

 

Hutch struggled through the hedges and brushwood. He didn’t see anything fishy.

 

Starsky had disappeared and he had to know what had happened to his partner. For another hour Hutch checked the area without finding anything that could help him to get to Starsky.

 

Hutch returned to the hotel and asked the desk clerk if Mr. Starsky had left a note. The clerk answered in the negative and Hutch turned to go when he heard a voice behind him.

 

“Can I help you, sir?”

 

George DuPont, owner of the winery and the hotel, smiled at him.

 

Hutch told him that his partner was missing since the evening before.

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry. What’s his name, by the way?” Mr DuPont was all friendliness, and Hutch told him that they were cops and were on a short vacation.

 

“Sure, we have to find him. How long have you known each other?” he looked curiously at Hutch and got the answer: “We’ve been friends for more than three years. Why do you ask?”

 

“Well,” Mr. DuPont’s voice became sharp, “Sometimes you don’t know everything about a man’s secrets…”

 

Hutch shook his head. “I know Starsky. He would never leave without telling me what he’s up to. Something must have gone terribly wrong and if you help me to find him I would appreciate it.”

 

“Of course, that’s no question,” said Mr. DuPont, appearing to think hard. Then he said; “Let me phone all the resorts in Sonoma and its surroundings. “If he has decided to stay overnight somewhere, we’ll find out. And I’ll ask my friends, in the other wineries, if they have seen anything suspect. Let’s have dinner tonight, Mr. …”

 

Hutchinson,” Hutch replied, grateful that the owner of the winery agreed to help him.

 

Hutch felt a little better after this conversation. With DuPont’s help it should be possible to find Starsky.

 

***

 

Starsky had spent a terrible night. He woke up a lot of times from the pain in his limbs and called for help, but there was no one who heard him. His thirst had become unbearable. He had the feeling he’d go nuts if he was left alone for a longer time without drinking and seeing. He had no idea if it was night- or daytime, but it had become quite cold and he needed to pee again. He moaned and tried to distract himself from his condition by thinking of Hutch who would look for him and would find him.

 

Starsky pulled at the ropes but found out it was useless. His wrists were hurting and his legs had become numb.

 

He tried to turn onto the other side when he heard a sound. Someone was coming into the room.

 

“Hey, I need to use the facilities and I need a drink.” Starsky made an effort to sound light-hearted but he didn’t get an answer.

 

“Who are you?” he asked trying to sit up.

 

“You don’t recognize my voice? I’m really disappointed,” he heard the man say, and his voice was full of bitterness and hatred. Then he went on breaking the silence. “I’ve been waiting for this day more than four years, and I promised myself to let you suffer the way you had made me suffer. I knew you would eventually sneak off to this place where it all began. I hope you had a restless night. Have much more fun today. I have better things to do.”

 

The voice trailed off and Starsky shouted:

 

“No! Stay here! I’m sorry what I did before. I need to talk with you!”

 

Starsky had said these words without thinking. He was led by instinct. He had to keep the guy nearby, otherwise he feared about his sanity.

 

There was a long pause before the man said:

 

“Is there anything you want to tell me before I leave?”

 

“Sure. First help me to get my hands untied. ‘Ya know, have to take a leak. And then I need something to drink and to eat. I’m too weak to speak in this condition. And when you take the blindfold off my eyes maybe I’ll remember you,” Starsky tried to convince his kidnapper to allow him some more freedom.

 

Starsky’s heart began to race when hands fumbled with the cloth that hid his eyes. It was drawn away and at first it was hard for Starsky to open his eyes. When he did, very slowly, he caught sight of a man crouching in front of him, a gun in his

hands. He was young, not as old as Starsky. The light brown hair hung over his eyes down to his collar.

 

Nervously he looked at Starsky examining his features.

 

“My hands, please,” Starsky smiled tiredly turning his back to the man.

 

“No wrong moves, I tell you!” The young man composed himself, and his voice became insensitive again. Then he worked on the ropes round Starsky’s wrists.

 

“What about my feet?” Starsky asked and while he was rubbing his wrists to get the blood circulation back the man untied his feet.

 

He didn’t stop watching Starsky carefully. When Starsky hobbled to the primitive latrine, a glance followed him. Starsky knew it, but he couldn’t bother about it right now. He felt sweaty and dirty and needed a shave, though a wash up had to wait.

 

Slowly he walked back to the mattress to sit down.

 

“Why was I brought here, and who are you?” Starsky looked at his kidnapper and couldn’t interpret the glance that was thrown at him.

 

“You know exactly who I am, and I remember you well enough that I recognized you, when you dared to show up with your new lover. Now the revenge is mine. You’ll never see him again!”

 

The man spat on the floor. Starsky was at a loss what was going on, but he had to play along for a while.

 

“My new lover? I don’t understand…”

 

“Shut up! You’re making fun of me, Brian? You’ll pay for it! I’ve seen you both walking around like two lovebirds. Don’t fool me or I’ll make short work of you.”

 

“You mean Hutch? He’s my best friend and we care for each other a lot, but we aren’t lovers… And what did you call me? Brian? That isn’t my name. I’m David Starsky. You should admit that you’ve mistaken me for somebody else. Now let me go, please. My partner is waiting for me.”

 

Starsky felt better all of a sudden. He had been mixed up, and this unlucky guy would soon find his lover again.

 

“No way. I won’t let you go. Prove to me that you aren’t Brian. Look at me!” The man approached Starsky till he was only inches away from his face. Starsky brought himself to return the gaze. The man frowned.

 

“Brian has brown eyes, so do you wear contact lenses to irritate me, Brian?”

 

The man looked confused, but suddenly a sly expression crossed his face. “Brian has a tattoo on his right hip. Show it to me and I’ll know if you’re Brian.”

 

Starsky sighed and was feeling uncomfortable again. What was this guy going to do?

 

“What’s your name?” Starsky asked.

 

The other one hesitated, but Starsky looked blank-faced.

 

“You’re making fun of me again. I don’t like it. You know very well that I’m Jules, and you called me DJ. And now pull your pants down!”

 

“Jules, if you don’t mind I need something to drink first.” Starsky coughed and cleared his throat. He felt sore and dizzy.

 

Jules looked at him pensively. “You had your hair shorter when we were together. And your clothes were more… exclusive. But your jeans aren’t so bad either. Get them off and let me check on the tattoo.”

 

Starsky made a defensive movement and Jules only smiled. “You want your hands to be tied again? My pleasure, then I can strip you.” He licked his lips and Starsk shuddered. He had the feeling of getting sick again.

 

“Jules, I told you to bring me something to drink and to eat. Hurry or I’ll faint. Then you won’t have any fun with me!” Starsky hissed forgetting all caution. This guy was somewhat unpredictable. He had to gain some time first to think his situation over.

 

“Hands on the back!”

 

Starsky hands were tied again. Then Jules left the dark room. Starsky wondered what time it was. Maybe Hutch was already looking for him. They had taken him away in a car, so the arch he was in could belong to another winery. That would make it much harder to find him, he mused. Obviously Jules thought they had been lovers four years ago. What had happened that Jules had kidnapped him? Maybe that Brian had left him for another lover.

 

Starsky had to get out of this room. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness. In one corner there was a little oil lamp. In the background he could see old barrels and next to them empty shelves.

 

The door opened again and Jules appeared with a bottle of water and something wrapped in paper.

 

Wordlessly, he held it out to Starsky, realizing that Starsky’s hands were again tied. He loosened the ropes and watched Starsky drink greedily. Taking small bites of the dry sandwich Jules had brought, Starsky focused on the young man in front of him.

 

“You wanted to tell me about Brian. Shoot!”

 

Sceptically Jules looked at the dark-haired man in front of him.

 

“I could’ve sworn that you’re Brian though… Wanna check the tattoo. Get out of your jeans!”

 

Starsky cursed inwardly. This guy was somewhat persistent. Starsky put the bottle and the sandwich on the mattress by his side.

 

“I told you before, I don’t have any tattoos. You must believe me that I’m telling the truth. Can’t we…”

 

Roughly Starsky was pushed back into the mattress a gun directed at his temple. “Get stripped or I’ll do it!” That voice didn’t contain any gentleness and Starsky, grinding his teeth, unbuckled his belt and unzipped his jeans always hoping that Hutch would rush through the door any moment to get him out of this situation.

 

A lascivious gaze followed the movement of his dropping jeans.

 

“Can’t see anything. Do it this way,” and Starsky felt a hand on the waistband of his briefs, tugging at them.

 

“Don’t!” Starsky hissed, but his capturer couldn’t be discouraged.

 

With one hand, he pulled Starsky’s underwear down over his hips. Starsky used this moment to grab Jules’ other hand that pointed the gun at him and tried to remove it. Jules lost his balance and fell over Starsky, both men wrestling on the mattress.

 

With his feet tied, Starsky wasn’t an equal partner. Soon he found himself pinned on the mattress, Jules’ weight pressing against his body.

 

“You wanna have it this way? That’s fine with me!”

 

Jules was straddling him and Starsky felt the arousal of his opponent pressing into his groin.

Hutch, help! Was his only thought and then he got sick.

 

He vomited and heard a disgusted “Shit!” He felt the weight lift off his body and he turned his head to the side gagging.

 

“Are ya nuts?” Jules looked down at the mess. Nauseated, he turned away.

 

“When I’m back you have yourself cleaned off. Then I’ll show you who you belong to. No matter if you’re Brian or not – you turn me on. On Friday we’ll leave together like we planned it four years ago.”

 

Heading for the door, Jules added: “And be happy that you’re with me and hidden here. If my father finds you he’s going to kill you. That’s what he told me yesterday evening.”

 

“Who’s your father?” Starsky asked pulling up his pants and reaching out for the cloth he had been blindfolded with before to clean himself.

 

“George DuPont.”

 

***

 

Hutch had canvassed the hotels and motels of the region asking for Starsky. He had even called the hospital in Sonoma giving a sigh of relief when no one had been brought in the last 24 hours that fit Starsky’s description.

 

On his way back to the hotel, Hutch saw a sign that led to the “Camp of the future,” the facility for young people that George DuPont had mentioned the day before. Starsky had loved the idea of such a camp. It would go with him visiting it.

 

Hutch followed the way until he saw a one level building surrounded by trees and a sports field to the right.

 

He entered the building, heard the buzzing of many voices and went forward. The door to a large dining room was ajar and Hutch stepped in, looking around searchingly. Maybe Starsky was here having a late lunch with these people.

 

“It’s lunch time. We don’t want to be disturbed.” A young man had gotten up from his chair. Light brown hair hung half over his face. When he looked at Hutch he stretched and straightened.

 

Suddenly a little smile crept over his face.

 

“Sir, how can I help you? Let me invite you to have lunch with us. It’s a bit later than normal because our helpers here have been busy with the vintage. Harry, fetch a plate and some silverware for Mr. …?” Expectantly, the man waited for an answer. Hutch wondered about the changing of the mood.

 

“Ken Hutchinson. I’ve heard of this camp Mr. DuPont had founded and I thought maybe I’d find a friend here.”

 

“You can make friends with all of these great guys. They’re worth it. Nice to meet you, Mr. Hutchinson. I’m Jules DuPont.” Hutch shook hands with him, looking surprised.

 

“Very interesting. I would have never assumed that the junior of such an enterprise doesn’t work in the management of the enterprise.” Hutch smiled.

 

“Personal reasons,” the young man said smugly and motioned Hutch to sit down.

 

In the next hour, Hutch got a full statement of the camp’s activities. At last he said:

 

“Mr. DuPont, I told you that I’m looking for a friend of mine. He has dark curly hair and has been missing since yesterday evening. I thought maybe he had shown up here and you’ve seen him.”

 

Jules DuPont shook his head.

 

“I’m so sorry. We don’t have a lot of visitors. The guys here are busy every day. I don’t think they’ve met your friend. Excuse me now. I have some paperwork to do.”

 

Jules got up and reached out his hand to say goodbye.

 

Hutch couldn’t explain it, but suddenly he had the impression that Starsky wasn’t far away from him.

 

“Let me ask the people here. I need all help I can get.” Hutch’s smile had faded. Confronted with the fact that his partner was still missing made Hutch restless.

 

“Sure. Feel free to look around and get your information. Harry, I need you in my office!” A big guy stood up immediately and brushed past Hutch to follow Jules.

 

On the spur of the moment, Hutch tugged on the sleeve of the big guy.

 

“May I ask you a question before you disappear?” Hutch smiled encouragingly and noticed the nervousness of the guy.

 

“Don’t be afraid, I don’t bite,” Hutch joked and decided not to tell anyone that he was a police detective.

 

“Then please come into my office. Then you won’t be disturbed.” Jules touched Harry’s arm and dug his fingers in the cotton fabric of Harry’ shirt.

 

Harry looked insecure and Hutch supposed that he didn’t like to be questioned. Jules positioned himself near the window, looking out at the parking lot, as if he was waiting for something.

 

“Would you leave us alone, please?” Hutch asked and slowly Jules moved to the door, throwing back a glance at Harry. Then he was gone and Hutch turned to the guy who had sweat on his forehead.

 

“You feeling uncomfortable, Harry? It’s just that I’m looking for a friend of mine. He has dark curly hair and since yesterday I haven’t seen him. He was very interested in this camp. Maybe you’ve seen him walking around here…”

 

Harry rolled his eyes and sank from his chair, hitting the ground hard.

 

“My god,” Hutch whispered noticing white foam on Harry’s lips.

 

Chapter seven

 

 

“Mr. DuPont?” Concerned, Hutch called for help and tried to turn Harry on his side to prevent him from choking.

 

“What is it?” Jules DuPont rushed into the room – and relaxed. “That’s one of his seizures. We have his medication, and when he gets the rest he needs, he’ll be fine again.”

 

Hutch was ushered outside. He realized that the house was abandoned. Obviously the inmates had returned to the vineyard and his visit had been in vain. Where else could he look for Starsky? He could only hope that George DuPont had spoken with his friends at the other wineries. If they had no clue about Starsky’s destination, Hutch would have to call the police of Sonoma.

 

Walking back to his car, Hutch had the feeling of falling apart. This week should have become a time of mental recovery from the terrible things that had happened one year ago. This anniversary meant so much to him. With Huggy’s help he had managed to plan the trip to Napa Valley for Starsky and himself, a quiet area with the chance to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Without thinking, he had given the money to make this trip possible, and now Starsky had disappeared. Hutch was losing faith that Starsky had only taken some time off. He would never do it without telling Hutch. The more Hutch thought it over, the more he was sure that something had happened to his partner.

 

Hutch stayed in his car for some more time before he decided to drive back to the hotel. If Starsky had appeared in the meantime all his worries would be gone. Hopefully Hutch put the car into gear and drove out of the parking lot. When he reached the main road to turn left he saw a brown Chevrolet passing by, driving in the other direction. For a short moment he had the impression that Jules DuPont was the driver.

 

Hutch mused about what personal reason Jules could have to stay outside the winery’s management. Instead he worked with young people at the camp. Probably he felt a social responsibility.

 

Hutch hurried to their suite to find it still empty. He couldn’t stand it any longer and dialed the number of Dobey’s office at the precinct when he heard a knock at the door. He stopped the call and went to the door.

 

“Oh, Miss, um, Marie,” Hutch said, and at the same time he remembered their date for lunch that day.

 

“Marie, I’m so sorry, but I totally forgot about our date.” Hutch blushed and let her enter the room.

 

She looked around and smiled. “Don’t worry, Ken. By the way, not too bad, the honeymoon suite.” She giggled, but Hutch wasn’t amused.

 

“I don’t care about what name this room has. My partner has disappeared and I’m worrying a lot.” Hutch sat down in one of the armchairs and Marie took place in one of the others.

 

Questioningly, she looked at him with sincere eyes. And Hutch told her all about this special friend of his, of their unique bond.

 

“There’re people who think we’re a little too close. Some rumors don’t stop saying about us being gay.” Hutch cleared his throat and continued, “but the truth is that Starsky is the brother I never had. We take care of each other and don’t feel ashamed to show it.”

 

Hesitantly Hutch watched Marie’s face, not sure, if she would understand him.

 

Startled, he saw that she looked quite worried.

 

“I understand you, Ken. I know someone who’s gay and has to hide his lifestyle because other people don’t accept his way of life. It can destroy a man.”

 

A little confused Hutch asked: “Oh, I didn’t know. Are you worrying about this person? Nowadays nobody should be ashamed of his sexual orientation, but I know that people can react in a cruel way.”

 

“You see, it’s my brother Jules. I care for him like you for your friend.” Marie shifted in her chair, and Hutch noticed the worry on her face.

 

“Is that the reason that he doesn’t work in the company of your father? I met him today when I visited the camp.” Hutch saw her pale face and assumed that there had been problems with their father; it was always the same.

 

“Yeah, you can’t choose your family, but your friends,” Hutch summed up and continued, “Your father has invited me to dinner this evening. He promised to do all he can and contact all the wineries in the area, to find out about Starsky’s whereabouts. Let’s hope that he can give me a hint,” Hutch sighed.

 

“I’m there for you to keep you company afterward,” her gaze fell on the large bed and she blushed.

“I mean, to drive around with you, looking for your partner – if you want.”

 

“Thanks so much, Marie.” Hutch was grateful for not being alone. He got up and unconsciously he pulled his shirt out of his jeans. He had to take a shower and get ready for dinner.

 

“I have to go.” Marie headed toward the door. Hutch looked surprised, then he noticed that he was about to undress and he smiled apologetically.

 

“Please stay. I’ll be right back. You can join me when I have dinner with your father. He wouldn’t have any objections, I think.”

 

She blushed again and Hutch felt a warm tingle rush through his body. If Starsky were here, he could have enjoyed the situation, have a little flirt with a beautiful girl…

 

She nodded and said, “I’ll wait on the balcony.” Hutch disappeared into the bathroom.

 

Standing in the dusk of the day, she wondered what was happening to her. This blond guy had caught her attraction as soon she had seen him the day before when he was strolling around looking at the paintings. Then they had spoken with each other, and she had noticed that her heart had started to race. So she had been looking forward to their lunch today and when he hadn’t shown up and she felt a disappointment she had promised herself not to endure again.

 

Her last love had had no future as her dad had stated. John belonged to an old family who owned a winery her father had been eager to buy for years. John’s family had to cope with financial problems, but they refused to sell the family business. The result was a fight and at last the ceasing of any communication between the two families. Marie had lost her lover because of this.

 

“A penny for your thoughts,” said a soft voice near her ear, and she startled. Then she relaxed, sensing Hutch’s warm breath tickling her cheek.

 

“Oh, nothing particular.” She turned to step inside and savored his hand on her back.

 

The dinner with a very obliging George DuPont couldn’t provide Hutch with any news. No one had seen Starsky and George DuPont seemed really depressed that his phone calls hadn’t been of any use.

 

He wanted to know when Starsky and Hutch had met and if they had been separated one time before. Hutch shook his head. Then he remembered the time when Starsky had gone to attend the class about rhetorical speech in San Francisco.

 

 “When was this class?” George DuPont was really interested. Hutch didn’t remember the exact date. Maybe three years ago.

 

He said: “I think something is terribly wrong. I can’t get any rest until I’ve checked out all the possibilities.

I should pay a visit to the camp, if you don’t mind. This afternoon one of the boys had some health problems and later everybody was out in the vineyard again. Starsky has a soft spot for the social underprivileged people. Maybe he stayed there for a while yesterday…”

 

Hutch sounded ridiculous even to himself for worrying this much.

 

Mr. DuPont smiled encouragingly. “We’ll find him, I’m sure. And then…” His smile got lost and he looked quite close mouthed.

 

“Dad, I’ll accompany Ke…, Mr. Hutchinson, to our camp. Thanks for the dinner.”

 

Supported by Marie’s presence, Hutch drove them to the camp.

 

A black and white with mars light on, as well as an ambulance, were parked in front of the entrance.

 

“Oh my god, what has happened here?” Marie got out of the car, and Hutch felt like being punched in the gut. If they had found Starsky…

 

He rushed past Marie into the building between the hustle of paramedics and a very excited Mr. Hanson.

 

“What’s going on here, Hanson?” Marie asked, and got the answer; “Miss DuPont, it’s Harry Fowler. We just found him dead in his bed. This afternoon he had a seizure, I was told. Then he got his medication and it seemed he was feeling better. Now he’s dead. A tragic incident for our institution.”

 

He looked sad and noticed the relief on Hutch’s and Marie’s faces. “Miss DuPont, your brother is okay, though he isn’t here at the moment. He said he had some errands to do. That was before Harry…”

 

“It’s okay,” Marie said softly. Then she added, “I’d like to talk to my brother. Did he say when he would come back?”

 

“No idea,” Hanson said and shrugged his shoulders. Then he leaned forward and whispered; “You know he sometimes frequents that private club outside of Sonoma. Maybe he’s gone there.”

 

“Thanks.” Marie nudged Hutch to leave the hall. “We should look for my brother. I’m a little concerned about him. He’s very sensitive when it comes to accidents like this. Maybe he feels responsible for Harry’s condition after the seizure.”

 

They headed to the car and left the community.

 

“To me he acted quite normal,” Hutch said remembering Jules’ attitude toward Harry Fowler. “But I agree with you. It could be useful to talk to him.”

 

Hutch thought of the small talk he had had with Jules that afternoon. He hadn’t responded to Hutch’s question about Starsky. He hadn’t even asked what Starsky looked like. Hutch frowned.

 

“You know, this private club is mostly for guys who…,” Marie started and Hutch nodded. Except some notes about the direction, both were lost in thought.

 

“Over there.” Marie pointed to a small building surrounded by trees.

 

“69” it said on a red illuminated sign and Hutch chuckled lightly.

 

When they entered the dark bar, many eyes were focused on them and Hutch felt scrutinized by some of the men. Marie walked to the counter and greeted the barkeeper, a muscular guy in a tight tan top.

 

“Have you seen my brother, Hank?”

 

“Nice to see you after such a long time, Marie. I’m sorry, but your brother hasn’t been here for some weeks. I remember happy times when he stayed here a lot with his friend. I don’t remember his name, but since then I’ve seen him only a couple of times. Sorry. How are you?”

 

“Yeah, not so bad. If Jules appears, can you tell him to call me?”

 

“Of course. Wouldn’t you like to have a drink? Your friend is a good-looking guy. Hey, it’s on me!” He beamed at Hutch who exchanged a glance with Marie.

 

“Well, I understand. Have much fun, you two.” He twinkled at Marie and turned to the next customer.

 

“I have no idea where my brother could be – and your friend either,” Marie sighed.

 

Hutch said pensively: “Let’s head back then. Tomorrow, in the morning, I’ll call the police.”

 

***

 

In the lobby of the hotel, they hesitated before both spoke; “I have to go now,” and “Would you keep me company?”

 

They laughed and Hutch continued. “I have a well-filled bar in our suite and I hate being alone right now.”

 

She couldn’t resist those light blue eyes and nodded. “For a few minutes.”

 

The minutes stretched and after two glasses of wine they ended with Marie on Hutch’s lap. He pulled her close, hungrily searching for her lips. He let go of all the disturbing thoughts that had haunted him during the day. Here was a beautiful lady that responded to his kisses. When he felt they needed more space to explore each other, he carried her to the large bed feeling like a pirate who brought a treasure home. He chuckled and she looked up at him. “Are you making fun of me, Detective?” “Sure.” He teased her and claimed her mouth again pressing his body against hers.

 

Only illuminated by the fire in the fireplace, they undressed each other and dove under the covers. Softly whispered words were heard, and some giggles, when he touched a ticklish spot on her soft body. Then there was nothing but responding bodies. Hutch let himself be carried away and their moans intensified when they climaxed almost together.

 

Satiated, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

 

***

 

Starsky thought he had misheard the spoken words  “George DuPont”. It was unthinkable that the junior of such an important winery would be able to kidnap someone. What else had Jules said?

 

“My father’s going to kill you if he finds you.”

 

Starsky shivered. He curled up to keep his body warm. What had they gotten into?

It was the second day that he was hidden in this old arch. He hadn’t heard any noises that would have shown him that a road or a path was nearby. What if Jules didn’t come back and nobody found him? He would starve to death.

 

Starsky tried to suppress the depressive thoughts. He sat up and decided to crawl to the door. He felt weak and it took a long time to reach it. As he had imagined, it was locked securely. He crawled further till he reached the other side of the room where he  examined the old casks and searched for a tool he could use to defend himself. Jules had promised to show him who he belonged to.

 

Obviously Jules was gay. Starsky had always thought of himself as a tolerant person. Being gay meant a different lifestyle. It had never occurred to him that he would come into a situation where a creepy guy was about to seduce him.

 

The first time he was saved by getting sick.

 

Exhausted, Starsky crawled back to the mattress. The only way to get along with the guy, without being sexually molested, was to keep him talking and distract him from his plan.

 

Starsky lay down again. He didn’t know what time it was and if Hutch was still looking for him. Thinking of Hutch in this situation, made him feel a bit uneasy.

 

He was longing for Hutch’s presence, and he had to admit, he felt cozy and protected when Hutch touched him or put his arm around his shoulder.

 

The first night he had slept without any nightmares. Was it because Hutch was sleeping by his side? What did that mean? Starsky stared at the ceiling, sorting his thoughts.

 

Then he smiled, thinking of all the ladies he had fallen in love with. And Hutch was feeling the same. After his marriage with Vanessa though, Hutch had stopped dating a lot of ladies. But there had been several stewardesses who had taken care of Hutch’s needs.

 

Suddenly Starsky chuckled. Hutch, forgive me my silly thoughts. I knew staying here for a longer time would drive me nuts, ya know? Buddy, I love you and I need you to take me away from this creepy guy – son of the great George DuPont! Hey, I promise not to get on your nerves with my quoting from Sammy Grovner’s book. It’s just entertaining, and by the way, we didn’t have the chance to practice that rope-trick. Remember?

 

Starsky stopped his soliloquy. Suddenly he felt a big lump in his throat. He missed Hutch so much, needed him desperately. He buried his face into the mattress, falling into a restless sleep.

 

 

Chapter eight

 

 

Hands caressed his hair. They ran up and down his back. Starsky stirred in his sleep and the hands stopped. When his breathing became even again, the hands continued their journey from the back to Starsky’s chest. Trembling in anticipation, they opened one more button and touched the dark chest hair.

 

When they moved to the waistband of his jeans and started to unbuckle the belt, Starsky turned on his back and opened his eyes slowly.

 

Looking at Jules, who hovered over him and kept his hands at the zipper of Starsky’s jeans, Starsky panicked and started flailing with his arms.

 

“So you want me to tie your hands again? As you wish.”

 

Roughly, his arms were drawn behind his back, and Starsky felt the helplessness of his situation.

 

“Now be a nice guy and play along with me. I had a hard day…”

 

Jules made Starsky sit up and pulled the shirt out of Starsky’s jeans. Eying it lustfully, his hands palmed the broad chest. Starsky was fully awake now. He had to stay calm thinking of strategies to keep this creep off him.

 

He took a deep breath and forced a smile on his face. “Yeah, I understand you. It’s the same with me. With my hands and feet tied I can’t touch you the way I like, and for you it would be much more exciting too. So untie me and you’ll see we can have a lot of fun together, like you had with Brian. What kind of guy was he?”

 

Slowly, Jules untied Starsky’s hands.

 

“I met Brian when I was working in the office of our winery. He applied for a job as an accountant. He had been recommended by a friend of my father, and soon he took care of the finances in the business. He was very good at his job.”

 

Jules removed the ropes round Starsky’s ankles letting his hand linger there. The other hand took the gun, pointing it at Starsky.

 

Misty eyed he said: “The way he kept looking at me showed me that he had feelings for me. One day we met at a private club – and I couldn’t resist him any longer.”

 

Jules paused, lost in memories.

 

“And then?” Starsky asked, thinking hard if he could find something to overwhelm Jules with.

 

Jules sighed.

 

“We had a terrific time. The only problem was my father. When he found out about our relationship, he went nuts. He fired me and forced me to work in the camp, but Brian and I continued to meet secretly. We had our places, this one for example.” Jules looked around seemingly remembering the time with Brian.

 

“That sounds quite good,” Starsky said.

 

“Did your father notice your meetings then?”

 

“Don’t think so,” Jules mumbled, “my father was more interested in making money. Brian had great ideas to support the camp and raise money for more camps like ours.”

 

“And so?” Starsky asked, wondering if he would be able to get the gun out of Jules’ hand this time.

 

“Brian promised me to take me with him when he planned a vacation to Great Britain, where some of his family lives. I was looking forward to it. You see, I was waiting for him here, but he didn’t come. I waited all night.  Then I went to see my father and found him in such a rage. Brian had disappeared. A lot of money was missing, and my father promised to kill Brian whenever he found him.”

 

“That’s why he looked at me in a strange way when Hutch and I arrived here on Tuesday,” Starsky said pensively.

 

“I saw you with your friend, too, and I had the idea to kill you before my father could do it. You know, I’m very good at shooting and you wouldn’t have a chance to flee this time. I watched you being together with that guy, and I thought you brought your new lover here. Don’t know why I didn’t shoot you the first evening when you two walked side by side along the path by the hotel. I just couldn’t do it.”

 

Jules reached out his hand to run it through Starsky’s hair. Starsky flinched, then he took hold of Jules’ wrist.

 

“Jules, listen to me. I’m very tired and I’m not in a condition to give you what you want right now. Besides, I stink and feel very uncomfortable. We should wait till we’re out of this place. Don’t you think I could talk to you father and explain that I’m not the one he’s looking for? After that, we could take our time to get to know each other a little better.”

 

Jules put some distance between them and Starsky already hoped that the worst was over.

 

“I won’t let you go. This time you stay with me. There’s only one thing I have to do.”

 

Jules pointed the gun at Starsky. Starsky froze. Was this the close call that would mean the end for him? He would never see Hutch again, wouldn’t be able to tell him how much he cared about him.

 

“Tonight I’m going to surprise my father by taking from him the most important thing he owns. It will give us the chance to live without any financial trouble wherever we want to go.”

 

Jules looked deeply into Starsky’s eyes. “Where would you like to go with me?”

 

Starsky swallowed and said: “Bolivia?”

 

If Hutch could hear him… They had joked about robbing banks in Bolivia when he was shot in the Italian restaurant. Always looking at the bright side of life – that’s how they handled dangerous situations. Now he needed Hutch desperately and knew at the same time that Hutch probably had no idea where he was and what had happened to him.

 

“Bolivia? We’ll have enough money to go there. There’s a little problem though. Harry died this afternoon. I didn’t want him to die; I only gave him a higher dose of his medication. I was afraid he would tell your lov... your friend about us. Wanted to keep him quiet for a while. Now I have to get it done alone.”

 

“What’re you talking about?” Starsky asked shifting back against the wall behind him.

 

“Your friend Hutchinson was going to ask Harry about you when Harry had a seizure. That’s all.”

 

Starsky nodded. Then Harry had been the big guy assaulting him from behind and carrying him to the car and later into the arch.

 

“Have some errands to do. Need to tie your hands again. Can’t wait till you’re mine,” Jules smiled and touched Starsky’s thigh lingering there. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

 

Starsky cleared his throat to say something appropriate, but the pain of his wrists bound together again, made him yelp in pain.

 

“Sorry, love, I’ll be back tonight to take you with me. Be patient.”

 

Then Jules was gone and Starsky cried out in frustration.

 

“Damn! Hutch where are you? I can’t stand being alone here! Need you...”

 

Starsky curled into a ball and fell into an exhausted sleep.

 

***

 

Hutch awoke from a sunray that had found its way to his face, and he covered his eyes with his left arm. Disturbing and wonderful thoughts were mixing in his head. He hadn’t been alone last night, and he remembered being together with Marie as a wonderful sensation. Reaching over with his right arm and finding the other side of the bed empty made him frown.

Marie had left him… and my God, Starsky was still missing!

 

Hutch got out of the bed. He had to call Dobey at once, then the police in Sonoma.

 

The routine started. Policemen asked him about when he had seen Starsky the last time. Hutch gave them the map for fingerprints and showed them the place where he had found it. Hours passed, and there was no trace of his partner. Again hospitals were called to ask if someone matching Starsky’s description. The police hadn’t found a corpse either and Hutch didn’t want to give up hope to find his partner alive.

 

He decided to ask Jules DuPont again. 

 

“Mr DuPont has been here this morning. Now he’s left to do some errands,” Mr. Hanson explained. He remembered Starsky very well but hadn’t seen him the last two days.

 

“Mr. Hutchinson, have you heard about Mr. Starsky?” George DuPont got out of his car and joined the two men. Hutch shook his head. George turned to Hanson.

 

“Hanson, I have to talk to Jules. Tonight I need him to help with the guests. I told him before. This is just a reminder. Would you tell him to come over to my office right away?” George DuPont left and Hutch followed him.

 

“Mr. DuPont, I’m not sure if I can attend the party tonight. Your daughter invited me to show me how you raise money for the camps, but I’m not in the mood for it. My partner is still missing and I’ll be busy looking for him.”

 

“Marie has invited you?” DuPont looked astounded. Then he smiled.

“You’re right. We have to find Mr. Starsky.” He accentuated the name and looked grim.

 

Hutch drove back to the hotel, parked the car in the garage, and decided to take a walk like he had done with Starsky two days before. He was just heading in the direction to the golf course when he heard a voice calling his name.

 

“Hutch!”

 

“Marie!” She ran toward him and he opened his arms to pull her close.

 

“I’ve missed you this morning,” Hutch said softly, holding her tight.

 

“I had a lot to do for tonight and didn’t want to wake you up. It’s good to see you. Everything okay with you? – No, how silly I am. Your friend is still missing. I’ve tried several times to talk to my brother, but it seems he’s quite busy too. You know what?”

 

She linked arms with him and said; “We’ve checked so many places to find your friend and it was all in vain. There’s one family my father was arguing with once. They have never talked again since and I’m sure my father hasn’t called them concerning your friend. We could drive to their place and have a talk with them. Maybe they are willing to help us. If someone has taken your friend, he must hide him somewhere here. It’s just an idea.” She smiled insecurely at Hutch.

 

“Yeah, you’re right. At least we should give it a try.”

 

***

 

Half an hour later they turned into the driveway of the Smitter winery. Marie kept quiet about her liaison with John Smitter. It was her own business and she only hoped that he wasn’t at home to open the door.

 

“Marie?” What’re you doing here?”

 

“John… May I introduce Mr. Hutchinson to you? He’s here on vacation with his friend who have been missing since Wednesday. We’ve looked for him at so many places. Do you have an idea where he could have been taken? We believe that he has been kidnapped.”

 

John Smitter scratched his head and paused.

 

“I have no idea, Marie. In the vineyards, there isn’t any chance to hide someone. The arches are locked every night and I check them personally. Believe me, if there had been a stranger, I would have realized it.”

 

“You were our last hope. Sorry for the inconvenience then,” Marie said, while Hutch tried to hide his disappointment.

 

“See you some time?” John called out behind her and Marie nodded absent mindedly.

 

Hutch felt as if a rug had been pulled out from under him. Marie’s hands were around his waist to give him support, but for the first time he wasn’t sure that they would find Starsky.

 

Hutch had to call Dobey again to check the cases Starsky had worked on the last year once more. There had to be someone who was after Starsky to look for revenge or something like that.

 

“Ken, the party is going to start in half an hour. I have to take care of the guests, so get some rest. Let’s meet about 9 o’clock. Then the tombola takes place. It’s interesting to see how the donations are made. It’ll be a distraction to you too. You’re coming, aren’t you?”  Marie asked him, leaning into him. He cupped her cheek and kissed her gently on the lips.

 

“Marie, you’re the best that has happened to me in a long time. I only wish Starsky could be here with us. This vacation was especially for him. He has had such a hard year and it was my idea to go on this trip to give him the chance to get some rest. I don’t know what to do now.”

 

“I’d like to get to know him,” Marie said. “Do you have a picture of him? I don’t think I’ve seen him.”

 

Hutch said pensively; “I must have a photo somewhere here…” He pulled out his wallet and had to smile when he saw the crinkled picture inside. It had been taken during Dobey’s birthday party two years ago. Starsky and Hutch had sung “Happy birthday” to their superior, and Edith had fixed this moment when they sang out loud.

 

“Here you are.”

 

“Brian! That’s Brian, Jules friend!” Marie was dumbfounded.

 

“If this is your friend, he looks exactly like Brian, the guy Jules fell in love with. After he had left, my brother Jules had a hard time.”

 

“Really?” Confused, Hutch stared at the picture. If Starsky resembled this guy who Jules had fallen in love with and had been left behind, then it could be possible that Jules… Hutch shuddered, thinking of such a possibility.

 

“Marie, I have to talk to Jules at once!” Hutch said with determination.

 

“No problem. He is supposed to help with the guests tonight. You seem to be upset.”

 

Marie looked at Hutch and suddenly she understood.

 

“Hutch, that can’t be true! You think Jules has kidnapped your friend because he resembles his former lover?”

 

“We’ll find out if we ask him,” Hutch said, and walked toward the Blue room where the charity guests were already gathering.

 

Marie was looking for her brother.

 

“He hasn’t arrived yet,” she said, a little concerned. When George DuPont entered the room, the murmuring died and all were concentrating expectantly on the owner of the Whitehall Lane Winery.

 

He welcomed the guests and explained shortly what a success the foundation had been so far. With the raised money they had established a home for young people who needed a new chance in life. He said he hoped that this evening they would raise even more money than in the years before.

 

“The buffet is open, good appetite!” The guests acknowledged him with applause and walked over to the large buffet.

 

“Where’s your mom?” Hutch asked Marie when they queued to get some food.

 

“Oh, that’s a sad story. She’s mentally ill, had a nervous breakdown some years ago, and is just spending some time in a sanitarium. I wish you could meet her. She’s a great mom. I miss her,” Marie sighed.

 

“Marie, have you seen Jules?” Mr. DuPont approached them.

 

“Dad, I haven’t seen him. Mr. Hutchinson wanted to have a word with him. Maybe he’s late again.”

 

Marie smiled apologetically at her father. He looked at Hutch.

 

“Mr. Hutchinson, I hope you enjoy our party. I’m so sorry that we haven’t found your friend. Please tell me if I can do something for you.” He smiled encouragingly.

 

“Thanks, Mr. DuPont. When you see your son, you can tell him that I’d like to talk to him,” Hutch said, and noticed the frown on George DuPont’s face.

 

“Sure. He should have arrived by now. See you.” George DuPont addressed himself to the other guests again.

 

Hutch walked around with Marie, and she introduced him to some neighbors who owned wineries themselves. They all praised the good deeds George DuPont had done with his camp.

 

Applause set in, and when the little band appeared and started to play, soon some couples were dancing. Marie tugged on Hutch’s sleeve and he couldn’t refuse her request. He tried to enjoy the dance but Starsky’s disappearance was nagging inside him. Awkwardly, he stepped on Marie’s toes and she gave a little yelp.

 

“Sorry, I’m such a klutz,” Hutch said embarrassed.

 

At this moment, a penetrating sound was heard. Puzzled, the dancers slowed down. The band went on playing till Mr. Hanson rushed through the room.

 

“It’s our alarm system.” Marie tensed.

 

Before all had realized what was going on, a shot was heard, coming from the adjoining room.

 

 

Chapter nine

 

 

“Oh my God, it’s coming from the picture gallery!” Marie gasped.

 

Hutch ran in long strides toward the small room where Hanson had just disappeared. The noise from the alarm system rang in his ears. He entered the room and saw Hanson, holding a gun in his trembling hand.

 

In front of him lay a dark figure on the floor. It had a mask over its face and didn’t move.

 

“What’s going on here?” Hutch shouted and Hanson stuttered:

 

“I– I saw him demounting the Pi– Picasso and shouted at him to stop. But he r– ran toward the window. I warned him once more. He didn’t listen and started to climb out– out of the window. Then I shot him...” Hanson’s voice broke.

 

“Stay back, please!” George DuPont’s voice told the guests very determinedly to stay outside of the room. Hutch kneeled at the side of the stranger and checked his pulse.

 

“It doesn’t look so good,” Hutch said and pulled the mask off the face.

 

“No!” A cry tore at everybody’s heart when Marie recognized the man on the floor.

 

“Jules!” She fell on her knees, cupping his cheek. “C’mon, wake up!” A dark stain spread out on his black t-shirt.

 

“Ken, what can we do?”

 

Hutch lifted Jules’ head carefully and asked, “Jules, do you know where my partner is? Mr. Starsky. You know, the dark, curly-haired man. I’m sure you know where he is right now. I have to know it!”

 

Jules moaned and mumbled fighting unconsciousness, “Love… Brian… never let go…”

He fainted again and his pulse got weaker.

 

“Jules, damn it! It’s all over. Tell me about the man you’ve taken because you thought he was Brian. Where is my partner?”

 

Hutch felt desperate. If Jules died they would never know where Starsky had been taken.

 

Marie bent over her brother. “Jules, it’s Marie. Hey, look at me. You know I was always on your side. You can trust me. Where have you been, and who was with you?” she stroked his hair and slowly Jules regained consciousness.

 

“Sis.” His voice was hoarse, and he had difficulties breathing. Then he looked at Marie and a little smile crept over his face.

 

“D’you remember where we played when we were kids?” He coughed and Marie held his head.

 

“Tell me, Jules, where was it?”

 

It demanded much effort for him to answer.

 

“The old arch by the Smitter estate, that’s where we played when we were kids and Mom and Dad talked with the adults… I want Brian and I never let go.”

 

He stopped talking and lost consciousness.

 

“I’ll go and call the ambulance!” George DuPont turned and hurried out of the room.

 

Hutch tried to stabilize the young man. Hopefully the ambulance would arrive in time to take him to the hospital before he lost too much blood.

 

Hanson was still in shock. “I’m so sorry, but it was my duty to shoot him. I thought he was an intruder…” he said over and over again.

 

“You’ll be asked by the police about that,” Hutch stated.

 

Hanson crouched next to the unmoving man.

 

Marie turned to Hutch. “Ken? I think I know what Jules meant with the old arch. Somewhere near the Smitter estate is an old building that hasn’t been used for a long time. As kids, we played there. It was a little creepy and made it an exciting adventure. Do you think Jules has taken your friend there?” Marie exchanged a glance with Hutch.

 

“It’s possible,” Hutch admitted. Then he asked her, “Do you remember where that building is? Would you able to find it? If not, we have to ask the Smitters again.”

 

He looked at her questioningly and saw her frown.

 

“I’m thinking about our childhood when our parents were still in contact with the Smitters.  We discovered it one day, when we were outside, playing hide and seek. It must be behind the mansion, deep in the woods. Let’s look for it. If I can’t remember the place exactly, we have to ask John again.” She looked uncomfortable and Hutch smiled.

 

“You don’t like that guy?”

 

Marie shook her head.

 

“There was a time when we were quite close… till our parents decided to split us up. But that’s been a while ago. Let’s go and find your partner!”

 

Encouragingly she patted him on the back.

 

Leaving the confused circle of people behind them, they took the Torino out of the garage and followed the road to the Smitters’ winery for the second time that day.

 

***

 

Starsky had lost the feeling for time. His body was hurting badly and his tied ankles and wrists didn’t leave him the freedom to move. He was sore and his limbs had become numb.

 

Though he hadn’t eaten for hours, he wasn’t at all hungry. He felt sick and feared vomiting again. He didn’t want Jules to come back, but on the other hand he felt abandoned. He wasn’t willing to believe that Hutch had given up on finding him.

 

Hutch was like a blood hound when his partner was in trouble. Hutch never stopped till he had found the person responsible for Starsky’s misery. Starsky sighed and a little hope came back that Hutch would find him before Jules came back.

 

His kidnapper had an ambiguous personality. He hadn’t known any scruples when he had touched Starsky and had felt his rejection. He was blinded by his arousal, and Starsky feared that he wouldn’t be able to get away as easy the next time. He was sure that Jules would take what he wanted, and Starsky wouldn’t have any chances to defend himself, let alone to engage Jules in a conversation.

 

The imagination of being touched sexually made Starsky gag. He was sweat-beaded and his heartbeat went up. Before he began to hyperventilate he had to calm down. He forced himself to take deep slow breaths and after a while he was feeling better. He began to think about his situation rationally.

 

The worst was that he couldn’t move with his wrists and ankles tied. He had tried to grind the ropes against the wall and had hurt himself more. It was hard to flex his fingers; they were numb and ached with the slightest movement.

 

Starsky moaned because of the pain. Helplessly he lay panting on the mattress, his stomach churning.

 

He had to think positive again. How much fun they had had on their way to Napa Valley. They had sung a song, and he had enjoyed reading Sammy Grovner’s book. Hutch had made fun of it, but Starsky knew from the glances Hutch had thrown him that he appreciated Starsky’s cheerfulness.

 

Starsky took a deep breath – and suddenly he remembered their bantering when he had proposed to practice the rope trick from Sammy’s book with Hutch. This trick was about how to untie yourself, but Starsky couldn’t recall exactly how it had to be done.

 

He started flexing his fingers. Slowly, he was able to bend them a little more and he felt the rope tighten around his wrists. Concentrating. Starsky moved his fingers more and more. Patiently, he fumbled for the rope, trying to figure out what kind of knot Jules had used.

 

The exertion made him sweat profusely, but it lifted Starsky’s spirit. Finally he had a new goal: to get rid of the ropes.

 

“Yeah!” Starsky cried out when he was able to loosen the knot. He felt grateful to Sammy Grovner for giving some tricks away in his book.

 

Starsky rubbed his hands till he could move them a bit easier. Then he untied the ropes around his ankles, too. To get up, however, was almost impossible. He was so weak, his legs wouldn’t carry him, and he sank back on the mattress.

 

He bent his legs and stretched his arms and was relieved when he felt his strength come back. At last he got up slowly, feeling still dizzy, but being free of the ropes gave him enough power to examine the room again, this time more.thoroughly.

 

He moved near the wine casks in one corner of the dark room and noticed that there was a little space between the heavy casks and the wall behind. If he hid behind them and got one of them to roll, when Jules came back, maybe surprise would be on his side and Jules would get distracted. Then he could flee…

 

Starsky crouched between a barrel and the wall. He was about to settle down when another idea hit him. He moved toward the oil lamp and doused it. Now it was pitch black in the arch.

 

Starsky slid down against the wall and its dampness made him shiver. His clothes were dirty and crumpled, and the odor of sweat mingled with the air of the room.

 

Suddenly he realized that he was thirsty again, but he wasn’t up to crawling back to the mattress to fetch the bottle of water Jules had left behind. Starsky tried to keep awake but his tiredness outweighed his survival instinct and he dozed off.

 

The sound of heavy bumps against the door startled Starsky. “Hutch?” he whispered, hoping for a moment that his partner had come to rescue him. But the impact of the blows, accompanied by curses, told Starsky that someone else tried to enter the locked arch. He sensed that it couldn’t be Hutch, so he stayed behind the casks, not daring to breathe.

 

***

 

The headlights illuminated the narrow lane that led along the Smitter estate.

 

“Somewhere along here must be the turnoff that leads to the old arch,” Marie whispered, and Hutch slowed down to find the right way. Earlier, they had lost their way two times, and had ended first, in a quarry, and then in a dozing flock of sheep.

 

“Look over there. I remember the wood, it was so scary at night. I feel a little strange now, too,” Marie admitted and groped Hutch’s sleeve.

They drove on till the next bend. Hutch braked abruptly.

 

“There’s a parked car.” Hutch frowned and heard Marie gasp.

 

“It’s Dad’s car. Wow, he was going fast in getting to your friend. I didn’t know that he was driving here.”

 

Hutch motioned her to be quiet. He couldn’t explain it, but he had a weird feeling that something was wrong. Quietly they got out of the car, and Hutch avoided slamming the door shut.

They crept nearer to the building that was hidden behind trees and bushes.

 

Once, Marie stumbled and Hutch supported her, holding her arm. In the darkness he could only sense her grateful mile.

 

They jerked to a halt when they saw the splintered door and heard a menacing voice.

 

“It’s stupid to hide, Brian. I know you’re here. It’s payback time. You’ll never betray me again. You turned my son’s head four years ago and dared to come back to use his devotion to you to ruin my business for the second time.”

 

“My son just got shot while he tried to steal my Picasso – you two wanted to start a new life with my money? Forget it! Just in case you didn’t know, I don’t care a lot for my wayward son. But I care about what YOU have done, you little piece of shit!”

 

“I always thought we were business partners, and I trusted you with our secret job – now, Brian MacPherson, you come out immediately and tell me what you did with the millions of raised money I entrusted to you!”

 

“Four years ago our mission was becoming more and more important, and you know I was fighting for the rights of our brothers. But our go-betweens waited in vain. The money you were to give them, to pay for the guns, never arrived! Don’t you believe in the IRA any longer? We can’t give up the fight for a better life for our brothers in Northern Ireland, but traitors like you, I give short shrift. You spoilt this night for me, too. My guests are acting like roused chickens. No way they’ll donate a single dollar tonight.”

 

“Show yourself at once, Brian, or I’ll shoot in all directions!”

 

Frozen, Marie and Hutch heard the ranting in the darkness inside. Someone bumped into something and a shot was fired.

 

Hutch got into action. If Starsky was inside the arch his life was in danger. Hutch heard more noises of kicking against something and of DuPont cursing himself for not having brought his flash-light.

 

Hutch entered the room cautiously, avoiding making any noise. At this moment he heard a sound from the left as if something heavy was set in motion. Someone gave a yelp, and it seemed as if a body hit the ground.

 

Hutch couldn’t see anything, but a moaning came from DuPont who had obviously been put out of action.

 

Hutch looked around and when his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could just barely make out a mattress and ropes lying beside it. He bent down to pick some up.

Silently, he neared DuPont who was writhing on the floor, half stuck under a cask. He tied the man’s wrists, ignoring his whining.

 

He knew that Marie was behind him and he let her cope with her father’s dirty business, and felt his way through the room. He stumbled over a big cask and looked for support along the wall.

He groped something soft and a whimper came from just in front of him.

 

“No, Jules, I can’t do it. Please leave me alone.” A sob broke free and Hutch was overwhelmed to hear Starsky’s strained voice.

 

Hutch ran his hand along the figure in front of him and felt the other tense and jerk back.

 

“No, I don’t love you. I’m not Brian. Please let me go.”

 

Now Hutch was getting concerned. He tried to lighten the mood.

 

“Don’t say you don’t love me, babe. It’s me, Hutch, and of course you aren’t Brian. Jules has been shot and can’t harm you.”

 

Saying these words, Hutch realized what Starsky may have endured during his capture and he felt desperate all of a sudden. His relief, that he had found Starsky, was clouded by the suspicion that maybe Starsky had been seduced by Jules. That would explain his frightened behavior.

 

“Oh God, what did he do to you? Are you hurt? Don’t be afraid. Talk to me!”

 

Hutch drew back and felt Marie’s hand on his shoulder.

 

“How’s your friend?”

 

“Not so good,” Hutch said, looking up into Marie’s sorrowful face.

 

“Hutch?” Starsky tried to scramble up from the floor, but was too weak to stand. He slid down the wall and moaned.

 

“Buddy, yes, it’s me. You’re safe. You wanna come outside with me?” Hutch said softly, and for the first time since he had neared his friend, Starsky looked not so scared, though his face was very pale and he still seemed to be in a state of shock.

 

“Give me a hand, then I can help you up.” Hutch reached out. Starsky hesitated, then he held his hand toward Hutch who took it and swallowed the lump in his throat.

 

He had to concentrate on the task ahead; to bring Starsky back safe and sound. To deal with the psychological damage would be the next step.

 

“What’re we going to do with my father? I fear the police will want to have a word with him,” Marie said and Hutch acceded.

 

“I hope I can reach the police from our car. They can take care of your father. I’ll take Starsky to the emergency room to get him checked.”

 

“No, take me home, Hutch. No doctors…” A weak mumble showed Hutch what he had expected, Starsky hated hospitals and ER’s.

 

“We’ll see, buddy.” Supported by Marie and Hutch, Starsky was led to the Torino. Hutch motioned him to sit in the back but Starsky refused. So Marie sat down in the rear and Hutch helped Starsky into the passenger’s seat. Leaning his head back against the headrest, Starsky watched every movement Hutch made. In between, he looked around, watching the dark surroundings, a haunted expression on his face.

 

 

Chapter ten

 

 

“I can’t believe that my father is running such a dirty business.” Marie bent forward, bracing her arms on the backrest of Hutch’s seat while they were waiting for the police to arrive and arrest DuPont.

 

“Yeah, pretending to be an honorable guy who needs to raise money to build camps for troubled youths, but instead buys guns to support the war in Northern Ireland,” Hutch outlined.

 

“We don’t have any connections to Northern Ireland, as far as I know,” Marie mused. She looked at Starsky who sat passively in the passenger’s seat.

 

“Mr. Starsky, I’m so sorry to meet you under these circumstances. My brother is mentally unstable. I hope he didn’t harm you. I’m Marie DuPont.” She reached out her hand, but Starsky didn’t react.

 

Questioningly, she looked at Hutch. He nodded lightly and she understood. His friend would need some time to overcome the shock of this experience.

 

The police arrived and Hutch informed them about DuPont.

Then he drove back to the hotel.

 

When they arrived, many of the guests had left. The parking lot was abandoned and Hutch was relieved. He could do without the curious glances of a crowd that still thought of George DuPont as an honest business man.

 

“Marie, if you don’t mind, I’ll take Starsky to our room to check out if he needs a doctor. Can you give me an address of one, just in case?”

 

Marie nodded. She understood Hutch’s need to take care of his friend..

 

“C’mon, Starsk, we’re home.” Hutch went around the car to assist his friend in getting out.

 

Again Starsky jerked back when Hutch touched his arm to help him.

 

“Try it on your own then.” It hurt Hutch to see his friend this defensive. In slow motion, Starsky got out of the car. He almost fell, and Marie grabbed his arm. He looked at her as if he noticed her for the first time.

 

They slowly walked toward the entrance. Hutch nudged Starsky in direction of the elevator while Marie headed to the reception desk.

 

Just when the elevator doors opened she hurried to join the men, holding a piece of paper in her hands.

 

“Here you are. Dr. McLaughlin is a friend of the family. If you need a doctor…” she frowned looking at the name.

 

“Ken? I remember my father mentioning that Dr. McLaughlin’s family is from Northern Ireland. My parents had even planned a trip overseas to spend some time with the McLaughlins together. But then my mother became ill. Do you think that he’s involved?”

 

“It’s possible. The police will find out. How’s your brother?” Hutch had noticed her pale face.

 

“They took him to the hospital and he’s in a coma now. If you don’t mind, I’ll go and visit him.”

 

She looked at Starsky who was hardly able to stand on his feet.

 

“Take care of your friend, Ken.”

 

She looked up and kissed Hutch on the cheek. He cupped her face, leaned down and kissed her deeply on the mouth.

 

“Thanks for your help,” he mumbled, brushing her lips a last time. Then she was gone and he looked after her absent-mindedly.

 

“You like her?” he heard Starsky say in a soft voice.

 

“Yeah.”

 

The elevator had left in the meantime, and Hutch had to push the button again. He didn’t dare touch Starsky, and it made him cringe to see how weak his friend appeared. Hutch wasn’t sure how to handle the affair. Normally they would cling to each other when one of them got hurt. They didn’t know any barriers when they needed each other.

 

This was different. Hutch got furious imagining that Jules could have touched Starsky in a sensual way. It could destroy the tight bond they always had. If Starsky didn’t trust him anymore, if he thought being touched by a man indicated sexual feelings... Hutch shoved the thoughts aside.

 

First of all he had to get Starsky into bed. That was hilarious! Almost hysterically, Hutch laughed out. From now on he had to be careful! No bantering, no teasing about being “joined at the hip” and no physical closeness.

 

Starsky had been kidnapped by a man who thought of him as his former lover. Had Starsky been able to defend himself?

 

“You coming?” The elevator doors had been open for a while, and Starsky held them for Hutch to step in.

 

“Sorry. Sure, I’m coming.” When they had reached the second floor, Hutch followed Starsky to their suite. Leaning against the wall, Starsky waited for Hutch to open the door. His curls were dishelved and his shirt stained. Hutch withstood the urge to take his partner in his arms. Instead he let Starsky enter the room first, watching him with concern in his eyes.

 

“Should we call the doctor, Starsk? Maybe you’re dehydrated and need an IV.”

 

Starsky only shook his head.

 

He trudged to the bathroom and mumbled. “Need a bath.”

 

“Do you need anything else?” Hutch stopped talking and looked at the closed door where Starsky had disappeared.

 

Hutch let himself fall onto the bed overcome by exhaustion. The search for Starsky had taken its toll and it seemed to him as if this day had lasted a week. That Jules got shot by Hanson was a tragic incident, and if he had died, Starsky would have stayed in the arch for who knew how much longer. Hutch shuddered, thinking of it.

 

Now he had his friend back – in a condition he wasn’t sure of. Starsky had acted strange, had drawn back when Hutch had offered his support by holding him. What had happened in the arch? It would take time to find out, and he had to be careful not to hurt Starsky in the process.

 

Hutch closed his eyes. He really needed a moment’s rest. With the thought of George DuPont being a sympathizer of the IRA, Hutch fell asleep.

 

***

 

First Starsky satisfied his thirst. Then he lay in the Jacuzzi, cherishing the warmth. His bruised body had hurt when it came into contact with the warm water. Especially his wrists and ankles, which showed dark marks and stung. It took an effort to clean himself, and once he feared dozing off, but now, having washed off, he felt a lot better.

 

Finishing his bath, he carefully stepped out of the Jacuzzi.

 

Fighting the nausea that churned in his stomach, he opened the door and stepped into the large room, a towel around his waist. He had expected Hutch to want to ask him a lot of questions and was surprised when it was absolutely quiet. Hutch lay fully clothed on the large bed, sound asleep.

 

Starsky looked down at his partner. Hutch’s blond hair lay plastered against his forehead. The expression on his face wasn’t as peaceful as it should have been when sleeping. Starsky frowned. He noticed dark shadows under Hutch’s eyes, and the way his fists were clenched tightly, even while he slept. His friend must have suffered a lot looking for him.

 

Starsky remembered the moment in the arch when somebody had broken into the room, intending to kill him. Then he had shoved the cask. When hands had groped him, he had jerked back, fearing that Jules would do what he had promised before.

 

Only now Starsky realized that it had been Hutch, who had come to rescue him. He had rebuffed the hands that had offered help and support.

 

Leaning down, Starsky carefully touched Hutch’s hand, checking himself for any defensive reaction but what he felt was familiarity and affection. Nothing to compare with Jules who had touched him to seduce him.

 

This was his friend who loved him unconditionally.

 

Starsky took off Hutch’s shoes and covered him with a comforter from an armchair. Then he drank two bottles of soda from the bar, got rid of the towel, and went to his side of the bed. Carefully he eased under the covers, trying not to disturb Hutch in his sleep.

 

He gave a sigh of relief. The nightmare was over. Snippets of Hutch’s conversation with that woman crossed his mind. Jules had been shot. But why? Starsky couldn’t remember the reason. But then he knew who she was. Jules’ sister! My God, and Hutch had kissed her.

 

Starsky turned to his side and saw that Hutch’s hands were still clenched.

 

It’s ‘Who do we trust time’ Starsky thought and reached out his hand. Slowly he unclenched Hutch’s hand, finger by finger, till it lay palm open on the blanket. Starsky covered Hutch’s hand with his own and closed his eyes.

 

***

 

Hutch entered the arch, followed by Marie. He heard George DuPont talking to someone and he hesitated. Suddenly a shot was fired, and George laughed loudly.

 

“Gotcha!”

 

Hutch stormed into the dark room looking frantically for Starsky. On the left he saw a human shadow leaning over a crumpled form on the floor.

 

“Starsky!”

 

“Finally he got what he deserved,” hissed the man on his knees, and though it was very dark Hutch saw George DuPont smile meanly.

 

“Out of the way!” Hutch cried out and sank down by Starsky’s side.

 

“Well done, Dad,” Hutch heard Marie’s voice behind him. Looking back he saw father and daughter arm in arm.

 

Starsky’s breathing was more like a death rattle, with blood running out of his mouth.

 

“Buddy,” Hutch whispered, lifting his friend’s head to pull him close.

 

“Don’t… don’t you ever touch me again. I can’t stand you.” Starsky’s head lolled back.

 

“No!”

 

Hutch’s scream resounded through the room.

 

***

 

“Shhhh, it’s nothing, everything’s gonna be all right.”

 

Hutch felt a hand on his forehead and he lifted his arm to push it away.

 

His heart was racing and it was hard to breathe.

 

A soothing voice mumbled words of comfort, and finally Hutch was able to open his eyes.

 

Concerned blue eyes were looking down at him and slowly he found his way back to reality. He had dreamed that Starsky had died. There was something else in the dream that had hurt so much. Suddenly Hutch remembered. Starsky had pushed him back – but that had nothing to do with the dream.

 

Starsky had been abused by a crazy guy and had lost trust in him. Hutch remembered all of a sudden how strange Starsky had reacted when he had tried to offer support. He suppressed a sob and put his arm over his eyes.

 

He had to compose himself, showing weakness was a matter of the past.

 

A hand around his wrist made him jerk back. He had to uphold a distance to give Starsky time to recover.

 

“You’re angry with me?” Starsky’s breath grazed his cheek and Hutch couldn’t bear it any longer.

 

“You want me to keep my distance. I understand it. I can deal with it.”

 

Hutch froze when his chin was cupped and his head was gently forced to the right.

 

“Look at me!”

 

Hutch did as he was told.

 

Braced on his elbow, his best friend was hovering over him, still holding his wrist.

 

“Listen. I panicked when you touched me in the arch. I thought that Jules had come back to…” Starsky paused and shivered.

 

“Did he hurt you, I mean…,” Hutch sounded frantic and Starsky shook his head, taking a deep breath.

 

“Fortunately I could distract him by talking about his former lover. But it was a close call…”

 

Hutch lay motionless. What was this supposed to mean? How damaging had the psychological torture been to Starsky? It was a fact that he had acted like a stranger toward Hutch when he found him.

 

As if Starsky had read his mind he said seriously, “It was the longest two days of my life. I almost went crazy in that dark room, not hearing anything and blindfolded for long hours. When someone slammed against the door, I thought it was you. Instead DuPont stormed in, trying to kill me. When someone touched me, I freaked out. I’m so sorry.”

 

 

Hutch examined his friend’s face. In the early morning light Starsky still looked exhausted and beat. But there were those dark blue eyes that reflected something very familiar. Affection for him?

 

Hutch didn’t know what to say. Then he remembered that he had fallen asleep hours ago without asking Starsky what he needed.

 

“I forgot to ask you if you needed a doctor or something to drink. Instead I fell asleep.” Hutch blushed lightly.

 

“Yeah, when I came in after my bath, I saw you sprawled on the bed deeply asleep. It was funny, but when I looked at you, I suddenly knew that I was safe.”

 

Starsky cleared his throat. Then he smiled.

 

“No soapy scenes! By the way, I need some arms around me and since Terry hasn’t arrived yet – what’re you waiting for, Blondie?”

 

Hutch hesitated a moment. Then he opened his arms to welcome his friend, savoring their closeness.

 

***

 

Starsky was tasting the bacon and eggs when Hutch pointed to the door of the large breakfast room.

 

“The lady over there resembles the special one we met some days before, pal,” Hutch smiled and Starsky turned his head. Surprised, he got up and shouted:

 

“Terry!”

 

“Hi guys!” Terry neared the table, smiling at the two men.

 

“How I envied you! You had a week of fun and peace, enjoying the wonderful surroundings and the luxury of this hotel while I had to work hard! Hey, I have to tell you that we attended a book presentation of the guy we met at the motel a week ago, you remember? It was very entertaining, and it was so funny, when he showed some of his tricks. The one with the ropes was impressive.”

 

Starsky frowned for a moment. Then he lifted his cup of coffee and said,

 

“To Sammy Grovner and all the good things that let us forget the bad times. Like you,” and he bent over to kiss Terry on the cheek. She blushed and smiled shyly.

 

He snaked his arm around her waist and told her confidently:

 

“You see the turkey right by my side? Well, that’s the most important person in my life – he’s always there when I need him. Without him I wouldn’t have been here now.”

Starsky locked glances with Hutch and no more words were needed to say.

 

Marie DuPont entered the room looking around searchingly. Hutch saw her, got up and met her halfway.

 

“How’s your friend?”

 

“You look pale – how’re you?”

 

They asked at the same time.

 

Marie smiled tiredly.

 

“Jules is still in a coma and my father is at the police station. I’m sure your friend will be questioned, too. How is he?”

 

Concerned, she looked over to the table where Starsky was occupied with looking deeply into Terry’s eyes.

 

“As you can see, he’s feeling better already,” Hutch smiled, and led Marie to their table.

After introducing her to Terry, Hutch looked around.

 

“What about going on a trip to enjoy our last day here?”

 

“Oh, I would love to see the winery and taste some wine,” Terry started, and was interrupted at once. “Not a chance!” Starsky and Hutch said unison. Then they laughed and Starsky explained, “It’s because I get somewhat uncomfortable in an arch. I’ll tell you later.”

 

He put his arm around Terry’s shoulder and waited for Hutch and Marie to follow them.

 

“I’ve never seen the golf course nearby – let’s try our luck there!” Starsky said.

 

He linked arms with Hutch and drew his company out of the hotel into the late morning sun.

 

 

The end 

 

 

 

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