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The Debt

By Cristina Pereira And Elisa Valero

This story was written purely for entertainment and is not for profit, and is not meant to trespass in any way on the holders of the rights to Starsky and Hutch

Thanks to our Beta Reader Donna Engle for all her help and great work

 

The wind was blowing as if it wanted to tear the small cabin out of the ground. A thick mantle of snow was covering the path, the roof, and the entire landscape of the lonely region in the middle of the forest. Even though it was just midday, darkness was covering the sky as the snow began to fall again.

"Come on, Rick, lunch is ready!" Karen called out to her husband.

"Yeah, honey, I´m coming."

The couple sat down at the table- Karen, a brunette woman with dark eyes, in her early 30's, and Rick, her husband, a tall, blond man, with blue eyes, a kind smile and gentle mood. They were spending a few days off in their cabin in the woods, flying out from the stressful life of New York, though the snow storm prevented them from going back home that morning, as they wanted to do.

"The bedroom window is closed?" asked Karen, filling her husband's plate with mashed potatoes, carrots, and fried chicken.

"Yeah, don't worry, sweetheart."

"My God. It's snowing again. How long will it take for this damned storm to end? I guess that not even the coyotes will dare to come out of their burrows."

"Oh, no! For them the weather is not a problem. I´m sure that right now they are enjoying it."

He was freezing, drenched by the sleet, extremely weak, and his head was pounding painfully. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably and his whole body was shouting out in pain. He had some cracked or maybe broken ribs. His left cheek was covered by a large, blue bruise, obviously as the result of a beating and, in the back of his head, a painful lump had grown. Also, his right forearm was broken and he was bleeding from a deep cut in his arm, as well, but he knew that he had to try and keep moving or he would dead, frozen, or eaten up by some wild animal. His legs weren't helping him at all. He tried to rise from the snow more than once unsuccessfully- as from his lips came just a whisper, like a prayer going out: "HelpHutch"

ELEVEN DAYS EARLIER

On Christmas day, Hutch called Starsky in New York where he was spending some time with his mother and Nick. He chatted nicely with Rachel for awhile and, later, spoke with his partner.

"Merry Christmas, Blondie!!" Starsky´s voice sounded cheery from the other side of the country. "Really, I don't understand why you didn't want to come here with me. Mom's turkey was truly terrific! Hey! If you take a plane right now, we can still save some turkey sandwiches for you. Besides, Mom's missing you a lot and you would be able to bring my Christmas present with you."

"Thanks, Starsk, but I´m afraid that I'll stay here." Hutch smiled silently to himself picturing his partner. The streetwise and tough cop that every Christmas became a child. He was missing him and his warm relatives from the deepest part of his heart. In the last few years, the only truly happy Christmases for Hutch were the ones that he had spent at the Starskys' home. This year he went to his parents' house in Duluth, since his father had had some health problems recently.

"Oh! Starsk, I already told you that I didn't have a chance to buy something for you this year."

"Ah, come on, Blondie. Do you really think that I believe that? You told me the same thing a hundred times before, and you always buy something for me at the end."

"Well, I'm sorry, but this time it's true." Hutch could hardly contain his laughter.

After some more talk, Hutch arranged with Starsky to give him a ride from the airport on the day of his return. When the matter was settled, Hutch hung the receiver with a soft smile on his lips. Starsky really knew how to teach somebody to love Christmas. But here was Hutch. In his parents' house. Getting boring, depressed, and even angry at times- h was thinking ´Some things never change.´ His family had money. A lot of money, in fact, but the house was as impersonal as some kind of museum and totally empty of love. For the Hutchinsons, the only important things were the money, the prestige, and their rich friends. And Hutch was feeling totally out of place here.

The days were spent uneventfully in New York. Rachel Starsky was enjoying the company of her two sons together for the first time in a long time. Starsky was, as usual, the most caring and kindest of the two and Rachel's mind was filled with sweet memories of her husband, Michael Starsky, who was still living in her soul, and in his oldest son's manners and even physical appearance.

On the other hand, Nick, the younger son, was more chilly. Despite still living in Rachel's home, he had a life of his own that neither his mother nor Starsky knew too much about.

It seemed Nick wasn't employed most of the time, though it was apparent he had a large amount of money to waste. He gave a new, big color television set to his mother and an expensive camera to Starsky as a Christmas present; he was wearing expensive suits, a new and expensive gold watch, and even had a new car. This, and the fact that Nick was spending many nights out of the house, awoke in Starsky suspicions about his brother's business. Finally, one evening, while Rachel was in the kitchen fixing some dinner, he approached his brother.

"Can we have a talk, Nicky?"

"Sure, Davy. What's the matter?"

" You really can't guess? You already know what the matter is, Nick."

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, Nicky. Don't mess with me. What are you doing for a living? You don't even have a job right now."

"Oh, well...I"

"You WHAT, Nicky?"

"Come on, Davy. I´m under arrest maybe?"

"Nick, you've been spending a fortune the last few days. Look at your clothes, your watch, the presents, your car. Where's all that money coming from, huh? Shit, Nick! Seems as I'll have to spend all my life asking you the same questions!"

"Damn it, Davy! I DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER YOUR FUCKING INTERROGATION! That's none of your business!" Grasping his coat, Nick stormed out to the street.

During the next days, things weren't better. Starsky didn´t get to know anything about what his brother was up to, until one night, very late, while he was in the kitchen drinking a glass of milk, he heard Nicky coming into the house totally drunk.

"Nick! But...what's going on?"

"Oh, Davy. I thought that you were sleeping. Why are you still wake up?"

"And why are you so drunk?"

"Oh! Come on, brother. I don't feel like hearing one of your older brother sermons right now."

"Where were you, Nick?" Starsky tightly grabbed Nick's arm, but he get free from the grasp with a sharp jerk.

"THAT´S ENOUGH, DAVID! I´m not a little kid anymore!" The young man climbed the stairs with unstable steps.

Starsky didn´t have any clue about Nick's activities, so he had no other choice but to give up, and try to spend the rest of his holidays spoiling his mother and keeping her away from the troubles with his brother. And, finally, Christmas was over.

The day after New Year´s, Nick went to the supermarket and was walking back home, when a sound of brakes attracted his attention. Suddenly, four strong arms surrounded him pushing him into the luxurious car.

"Martinelli...." Nick was scared and truly surprised. The man in the car was in his early 50's, thin body, angular features, pale skin, blue eyes, brown hair, and he was wearing an expensive grey suit and a black coat that was looking just as expensive.

"Little Nick, forgive this extreme way to invite you for a little chat between friends, but I think that you have some memory problems and my men here can help you to remember."

"Hum, Mr. Martinelli, of course, I remember but I need a little more time to get the money. You know it´s Christmas time and my whole family is together. Maybe you can wait until tomorrow. I will get the money. It´s just that right now, I can't. My brother is going back today to LA and soon everything will go back to normal. I don't want him to know that I´m having some problems. I always paid before, didn't I ? "

"Yeah, you always paid before, but the other times it was just little amounts. This time you owe me a good amount of bucks, and I'm beginning to get tired of this game, little boy. Don't you think that three weeks of waiting is time enough? And do you think that I´m joking here? I know when I´m dealing with a loser. My patience is done, Nick. I want my money now. Do you hear me? Now!...Boys, my little chat with him is over. Let him go."

Nick was pushed out of the car and, still feeling scared, he rose from the ground and walked quickly home.

"Mr. Martinelli, perhaps that boy will need a little more pressure as a persuasion. If we don't push him a little more, we will have problems getting ...." Martinelli stopped Joe's words by raising his hand.

"I know, Joe. Our little Nick needs a good reason to pay his debt to me. But I know how to solve this problem."

" What are you thinking, Mr. Martinelli?"

"You and the boys will invite his brother to spend some time with you. In the forest in the cabin. Okay?" Joe nodded. "Seems that a little bit of emotional blackmail always works with these losers. Take care of everything. Today, Nick's brother will go to the airport, but he doesn't get there. Is that clear?"

"Of course, Mr. Martinelli." A sinister smile appeared on Joe's face.

"And don't worry if he gets a little hurt. The only important thing is that he must stay alive. You know. He´ll be my guarantee to get my money back. Okay. Soon we'll see how long Nick Starsky needs to pay his debt."

"Yes, Mr. Martinelli."

Starsky locked his suitcase, and went down the stairs, heading to the kitchen to find Rachel there.

"Hi, honey. Seems like the holidays are over so fast." The woman warmly held her beloved son between her arms, looking a little depressed. The moment when her oldest son was coming back to Bay City was always a sad one.

"I´ll come back soon, Mom. I promise. And the next time Hutch will come with me. Where´s Nick, by the way?"

"He´s at the supermarket, getting some milk and juice."

"Look, Mom, I"

"I know, Davy. You have done as much as possible. But that boy is so difficult. Though he's a good boy, Davy. He loves us. In his own way, but he does. I know it. Listen, Davy. Don´t worry about us, huh? Today you´ll go back to Bay City to do your work. To make a difference in this rotten world. And I'll feel very proud of you. As your dad would have felt." At that moment, Nick was coming in the kitchen, sitting down silently at the kitchen table looking a little upset. Starsky noticed it as well as his mother, but neither of them dared to ask anything of the moody-looking young man.

A while later, Starsky took his baggage down to the hall. As always, he was already late in leaving for the airport, so he quickly opened his mother's phone book. He easily found a taxi company's number.

"Nick, call this company and ask for a taxi for me. I´m late and I still have to say goodbye to everybody. And, if I don't say a special goodbye to our mother, she is capable of travelling to LA just to tell me how much of an insensitive son I am." He winked to his brother.

"Okay, I'll do it." In reality, Nick never felt so happy seeing his brother going back to LA.

Martinelli's men were ready for the operation. They had already been waiting for many hours in a van parked on the other side of the street, in front of Rachel Starsky´s house. The night was stormy, but this would facilitate everything. The street was empty. As soon as the taxi stopped, they headed towards it and surrounded the car. Using a silencer, they shot the taxi driver. They dragged his body to the van and there one of the goons exchanged his clothes with the taxi driver´s. Soon he was sitting down in the taxi waiting for David Starsky. The van, with the two others, left quickly to wait at the end of the operation.

When Starsky sat in the car, there was nothing suspicious. They started their way normally to the airport until the van driver crossed the road in front of the taxi. Starsky did not have any chance to defend himself.

Although he desperately tried to react and run away, two armed men double his height dominated him easily. He was unable to fight against the strong four arms that were holding him firmly. Then, one of the men pressed a tissue with something smelling sickly-sweet against his mouth and nose. In a few seconds, all turned black. His limp body was put in the van. And they went to nowhere.

 

On the day of Starsky´s arrival, Hutch went to the airport to wait for him. When his flight was announced, he headed toward the passenger gates, looking for the familiar mop of curls and the shining smile of his partner. But Starsky wasn't on that flight. Hutch waited patiently for the next, and when Starsky didn´t arrive then either, Hutch asked at the information booth for him.

"David Michael Starsky. He was to arrive from New York in the last flight, but he wasn't there. Please, Miss. Can you find out for me if he made his flight?" The only thing that the girl found out was that no passenger named Starsky took a flight from New York. In that moment, his cop sense and, even more, his special link with Starsky gave him the feeling that something was very wrong. Where are you, Starsk? Starsky never would forget to call him, if for any reason, he couldn't return at the agreed time. Besides, the next day they both had a very important appointment in the courthouse related to one of their last busts. Hutch remembered perfectly how, before leaving, Starsky had confirmed that he would be back in Bay City a day before the start of the trial.

Hutch decided to call Nick in New York but thought he should wait until the next day. At that moment in New York, it was very late, and he didn't want to scare his friend's mother.

He couldn't get any sleep that night, and spent that time making calls to the hospitals and police stations in New York but had no success. Next morning, when he thought that it was the right time, Hutch picked up the phone to call Nick. He was relieved to hear the voice of Starsky´s brother. At least, he wouldn't have to lie to Rachel.

"Hello."

"Hi, Nick, it's Ken. Hutch." After a few seconds of silence, Nick answered.

"Oh, hi, Hutch. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, thanks. Listen, Nick. I need your help. I I was waiting for Starsk's arrival last night. We had an appointment in the courtroom today, and he assured me that he would return on time but Starsk never arrived. And the information personnel told me that he didn´t take his flight. Do you know if he changed his plans for any reason?"

"Hum...... You know him, Hutch. He must have joined some old girlfriend or a new beautiful one and maybe he´s spending one more day here. It wouldn't be a bad idea. Better than a boring trial, isn't it?"

"Nick, your brother is a very responsible cop. He would never do that, no way. If you have any news, call me, any time, ok? "

"I´ll do that, Hutch, but don't worry so much. I´m sure that he is better off than we are right now."

"I´m not so sure about that. Okay, just let me know if he gets in touch with you." Hutch never liked Starsky's brother very much, and his apparent lack of concern about Starsky left him very upset. Definitely, something had happened and Captain Dobey would be the next one to know it.

Hanging up the receiver, Hutch headed towards Dobey´s office to fill him on his concern about Starsky´s safety.

"Okay, Hutch. Let's think. Right now, I'll put an APB out on him. Try to relax, son. I´m sure than there is some good reason for this. But if he doesn't have one good enough, then I´m going to put his ass on traffic duty until next year!" Dobey was doing his best to ease Hutch's distress, though he was feeling that something was really wrong here.

A while later, Hutch and Captain Dobey went to the courtroom. Everything was fine, despite the absence of Starsky. When they both went back to the precinct, they checked once again the list of passengers on all the flights from NY for the last 2 days, and David Michael Starsky wasn't listed on any of them. One of his best detectives was officially declared a missing person.

***

 

After Hutch's call, the phone rang again in Rachel Starsky´s place while Nick was getting ready to leave the house.

"Hello?"

"Glad to hear you, little Nick."

"Martinelli. We agreed that you never would call me here," Nicky whispered back.

"Oh, sure, but I have some news for you, and I´m sure that you would want to know it as soon as possible. Do you know where your brother, David, is?"

"MyMy BrotherHe´s on his way to Bay City. Right?" Nick's voice was trembling, guessing the implications of Martinelli´s question.

"No, no, no. Wrong answer, my dear friend. Your brother is here with us. Spending a good time amongst friends."

"Bastard! Don't dare hurt David!"

"Hu-hu! What manners are those, Nicky?"

"Listen, Martinelli.."

"NO! YOU LISTEN! We have your brother. And he´ll be in our hands until you pay your debt, and don't even think about calling the police, or he will be a dead man. You must get the money fast, Nick, ´cause my friends aren't very nice hosts. Specially, when their guest is a cop." At that moment, Nick could hear Starsky´s moan right before the phone line goes dead.

 

In Bay City, Hutch decided to head to New York. If Starsky didn't take any plane to Bay City, then the most logical thing would be to search for some clue about him in New York.

Meanwhile, Nick was trying to get the required money, to look for Starsky, and to deal with Martinelli, who was completely out of sight, only getting in touch with Nick by telephone. Fortunately, he was able to keep Rachel still unaware about the situation, though the old woman could see that her youngest son was involved in some trouble.

That morning, Rachel approached her son who was staring out the window with a concerned look.

"What's the matter, Nicky? You can trust me, son," the old lady said, putting a hand kindly on Nick's shoulder.

"Huh? What do you mean, Mom?"

"Don't try to fool me, Nick. Something is bothering you. And I'd like to help you, if I can."

"Nothing's bothering me, Mom. Everything's just fine. Promise."

"No, Nick. Something's wrong. Very wrong. You can't lie to me. But I guess that I haven't any way to know what it is. Right?" Without waiting for an answer, Rachel turned towards the back yard with a deep sadness showing in her blue eyes.

 

On the first day, the goons that kidnapped Starsky, found his gun and badge, and something became totally clear to him- his captors were not too fond of cops.

"Look what we have here, Rob. Turns out that this guy is a cop!" The words were accompanied by a hard punch to Starsky´s stomach that doubled him over , making him fall from the chair in which they had him tied tightly by his wrists and ankles.

"Yeah, great surprise. Our boss will be very pleased." Then, Joe seized Starsky´s collar, dragged him to the floor, and said looking fixedly into his defiant eyes, "Look, cop, this is our best chance to do something that has been our greatest wish- to kill a fucking cop. A cop like those that arrested us, sending our asses to prison. And I swear to you that we'll not waste the chance."

"It's possible, but you both will end your days roasted like chickens in the electric chair," Starsky answered proudly. Joe punched his hard face throwing him to the floor again. Suddenly, another man entered the cabin.

"Well. I can see my boys introduced themselves to you, Mr. Starsky." The new comer looked very familiar to Starsky who began to think, trying to remember where he knew that face. The man's clothes, as did his entire image, was the look of somebody very rich, and Starsky was sure that he had seen that face before, but he couldn't fit the memory in his mind. One of the goons approached the man, holding out Starsky´s badge.

"Well, well, so the brother of my good friend, Nick, is a cop. I guess that this will make things funnier. Right?"

"Do you know Nick?" At that moment, Starsky was confused as never before. How the hell did Nicks know this guy?

"Yeah, I know Nick. In fact, you're here thanks to him. You know? Your little brother is a true loser. And the worst poker player I know, by the way. He owes me a lot of money. $2500.00 exactly, but he´ll pay, yes, sir. He´ll do it. And if he doesn't pay his debt to me very soon, then, he´ll be responsible for his brother's death. Your death, Detective Sergeant Starsky." After saying that, he left.

Over the next few days, he didn't come back to the house any more. A while later, Starsky remembered that he was Vincent Martinelli, one of the most elusive criminals in the whole country. He was the suspect in an endless list of crimes and felonies. Starsky never met Martinelli before even though that guy was a true celebrity to all the police around the country.

***

It was the fourth day that Starsky was being held captive in the cabin. Or maybe it was the fifth? He had lost count since every day was like the other. Hits, hunger, cold, threats, humiliations, more hits. His captors alternated between completely forgetting him and beating him without any special reason. He was being physically and mentally tortured and was getting more and more weak and sick. Starsky was suffering from a bad cold and had a painful cough that would shake his entire body frequently. His captors allowed him to be untied just to eat a little of the awful food that they gave him once at day- a stale sandwich and some water- and to go to the bath room. During those times, guns were aimed at him all the time. Other than that, he was tightly tied the rest of the day. At nights, Starsky slept tied over a crummy blanket on the floor. In his feverish dreams, he was in his apartment, drinking some beers and eating pizza while watching a ball game on the tube with Hutch, but the reality was that he was a prisoner and tied in a wood cabin in the forest, far from New York, far from Bay Cityfar from everything and everybody who could help him.

That day, things were looking worse than never. Martinelli´s hitmen were totally drunk, and they were releasing all their alcoholic vehemence against Starsky. He thought that they would kill him.

"What are you looking at, huh?" Joe asked Starsky but he remained silent.

"I ASKED YOU SOMETHING, YOU BASTARD!!" The goon rushed toward Starsky, beating him pitilessly.

"Hey, hey give the guy a break, okay?" Rob said in a blurred voice. "Martinelli could blow your head off if you kill the cop."

"Huh?"

"Yeah, Joe. We're supposed to keep him alive. He´s Martinelli´s IOU." The man waved a hand, grimacing scornfully. "Bah! Forget him. How about a beer?" Luckily, they both headed unstably towards the kitchen, forgetting Starsky for a little while, in which time he could try to catch his breath. Suddenly, he noticed that the ropes that were binding his wrists were pretty slack. Probably because the last time that they tied Starsky, both men were already pretty drunk.

Although it took a lot of time and effort, finally, Starsky got untied. Light-headed from weakness and the beatings, he silently reached the door as he heard loud snores coming from the kitchen. The door was locked, and Starsky swore softly. He had to find the key!! Taking a glance around the living room, he didn't see it anywhere. He was feeling scared out of his mind- the key surely must be in one of the pockets of the goons' clothes. Okay, Starsky. Now or never he thought. He took off his Addidas and, silently as a snake, he slipped into the kitchen. Both men were deeply asleep. Holding his breath, he reached carefully into the shirt pocket of the man called Joe. When he moved with his eyes closed, Starsky thought that his heart would stop. Fortunately, Joe didn´t wake up and, there, in his pocket, Starsky found a bunch of keys.

With trembling hands, he grabbed them, heading silently towards the front door. He found the right key on his third attempt. Once the door was open, he took his sneakers and rushed outside, where he saw a car placed some steps ahead. The car door was open though the key wasn't in the ignition, so despite his blurred vision and his trembling hands, he hotwired it to get the car in motion.

It took some time and, while he was trying again and again, he kept looking apprehensively at the front door. Finally, he got it. The engine's sound was the sweetest he ever heard. Starsky put the car in motion and drove as far from there as possible.

Starsky drove a few miles, but he was feeling so weak with his entire body hurting, that he was unable to get the car under control when a large icy patch appeared on the road.

Despite all his efforts to firmly grasp the steering wheel, the car spun and ended in the ditch, lying over on its roof. Starsky was trapped on the inside, unable to move his right arm, and bleeding profusely from a cut in his arm.

***

With an enormous effort, Starsky finally got out of the car. Storm clouds were covering the sky as the temperature was falling and the cold wind was hurting his entire body. Slowly, he managed to get up and walk some steps before he fell again on the snow, coughing painfully. He lapsed into a feverish drowsiness and it was a while later when he woke up. Using his last reserves of strength, he forced himself to rise again and keep walking. Suddenly, he saw it. A column of white smoke rising to the sky from a little distance ahead. With a renewed strength, Starsky walked towards where the smoke was coming and there he saw a house in the middle of a clearing.

"You hear that, Rick?"

"What, Karen? I haven't heard anything."

"A noise. At the door."

"Oh, come on, dear! Maybe it's some coyote or bear who wants to spend the night here on the couch in front of the fire, watching the tube."

"Rick, I´m not joking. I heard something." Suddenly, Rick heard the noise, too. A soft knock at the door. Cautiously, the man took the gun that he had in a drawer and opened the door to see a pale and barely conscious Starsky leaning unstably against the door frame.

"He-Help me." Starsky reached blindly out towards the man. After that, he passed out, falling in Rick's arms.

"Sweet Jesus! Karen!" Karen rushed towards Rick, helping him carry Starsky to the living room, placing him carefully on the couch.

"This man is wounded and half frozen to death. Rick, please, bring me a washbasin with warm water, some wash cloths, the first aid kit, and a blanket from the closet. No! Two blankets. He´s truly frozen."

"Hey, sir. Can you hear me?" Karen patted Starsky´s cheek gently, but he wasn't showing any sign of awareness. Rick approached the couch with all the needed stuff to help Starsky and a dry flannel shirt.

"We have a problem, Karen. I tried to call for help, but the phone line's dead. Surely due to the snow storm." Karen looked at her husband with frightened eyes. In that moment, he regretted not following his wife's tip about getting a radio.

"Hey, sweetheart. Don't worry. Now we'll get him out of those wet clothes and we'll take care of his wounds. Later, I'll try to take him to the nearest hospital or doctor."

"No, Rick. You can't go anywhere. The roads are totally covered with snow. It would be dangerous."

"Our car has tire chains, honey. And I'll drive carefully. I have to try it. This man is wounded and burning up with fever." Karen placed her hand on Starsky's forehead, making a face when she felt the heat there.

"He could get worse in the next hours, Karen. Besides, we don't know who he is." While he was speaking, Rick was already carefully removing the wet and torn clothes from Starsky's yet unmoving form. When he saw the scars from the Gunther shooting on his chest, Rick raised his eyebrows. "Sweet Jesus! What has happened to this man?" At that moment, Starsky began to wake up.

"Hutch...Hutch...Help."

"Hey, friend, how are you feeling?" Rick bent towards Starsky, smiling at him. "Don´t be scared. Everything's okay. You're safe here, and we're friends. Karen and Rick by the way."

"Hutch...Call Hutch, please" Starsky tried to get up from the couch, but a wave of overwhelming pain prevented him from doing it. He bit his lip holding his breath with his eyes closed until the pain subsided.

"Shhhh. Take it easy, sir. Don't try to move. Okay?" Karen was talking to him in a soothing voice, while she was gently cleaning his bloodstained arm.

"My...My arm. It´s broken."

"Yeah. I think so. Okay. We'll immobilize it in a sling until we can get you to the hospital. And now, mind telling us who are you and what's happened to you?"

"My...My name is Starsky" A fit of coughing stopped his words, and Karen hurried to bring him a glass of water. After drinking some sips with her help, he continued talking. "My name is Dave Starsky, and I´m a police officer from Bay City though I haven't got my badge here to prove it to you. They took it. Please you must believe me...Please." Starsky was getting upset, and Rick and Karen exchanged a quick and unsettled look. In some way, they knew that the unknown man was sincere but the way in which he came to their cabin was disturbing, though they knew they should help him anyway.

"Okay, Dave. Calm down. We believe you," Rick said placing his hand on Starsky´s shoulder, talking to him in a comforting voice that to Starsky´s ears sounded like Hutch's.

"Please. Get Officer Hutchinson. Ken Hutchinson, in Bay City 9th precinct...Please," Starsky begged.

"I´m so sorry, Dave, but right now we can't do it. The phone's not working. The snow storm, I guess. Okay, I'll tell you what we'll do. Firstly, we'll immobilize your arm in a sling, and, later, I'll take you to Brewster in my car. We must get you to the hospital." At that moment, Starsky´s teeth weren't chattering any more and the dry clothes were making him feel a little better, though his arm, head, and chest were hurting like hell and his fever was climbing steadily. Rick looked at the man lying on his couch with a concerned look. Later, he and Karen would want to know why this man was walking around wounded and lost in the middle of the storm, and especially whom "They" were- the people that according to Starsky took his badge. Right now, getting him to the hospital seemed the most urgent thing to do. Despite knowing that it would be a risky trip, Rick was feeling that he had no other choice but to try it. He took his coat, grabbed his car key, and headed towards the garage, while Karen was placing Starsky's broken arm into a sling made with one of Rick's cravats to ease a little of his pain. "Hold on a bit. Rick will take you to the hospital, and everything will be fine." The young woman was speaking with a calm that she didn't feel at all. The truth was that this unknown man looked like he was dying.

"Tha-Thanks. To both of you." At that moment, Rick stormed into the cabin swearing angrily. "SHIT! DAMNED PIECE OF JUNK!!"

"RICK!"

"The car, Karen. That damned thing, is not working. And I'll be damned if I can find out why!" Karen sighed softly, approaching her husband and placing a hand on his shoulder. "It´s okay, Rick. We'll take care of Dave tonight, and surely tomorrow the storm will abate and one of us will be able to go to Brewster on foot."

"What...What's happening?" asked Starsky, trying to sit up painfully.

"Don´t worry, Dave," Karen said approaching Starsky and helping him gently to lie back again. "We've got a little trouble here. Our car is not working, but tomorrow when the storm ends, Rick or I will be able to reach the nearest town on foot. It´s just a couple of miles from here. And, now, don´t move. We need to finish putting your arm in a splint. I know that this should be done in the hospital, but it'll take some hours until you can get there. Try to relax, we'll try not to hurt you."

The young couple manoeuvred Starsky's arm as carefully as possible to get it into a rudimentary splint made up with some bandages and two planks from the woodshed. After their ministrations, the pain was so intense that he almost lost consciousness.

"I´m sorry, Dave, we know that this hurt a lot but we had to do it. Okay. It´s over. I'll get some aspirins and a bowl of chicken soup for you. Later, we'll take you to the guest room and you can sleep more comfortably in a bed. Okay?" Starsky had only strength enough to nod his head, though his brain was racing. Hutch would be worried out of his mind and there wasn't any way to get in touch with him. Besides, despite feeling safe with Karen and Rick, Starsky had a strange feeling tickling the back of his mind. Surely it was just his exhaustion, but he was feeling as if something would soon be wrong, very wrong.

"Do you feel like eating a little, Dave?"

"I´m afraid I can´t eat anything, Karen." Karen was doing her best to ease some of the discomfort of their unexpected guest. He was looking absolutely sick and defenseless.

"Well, see if you can try, okay? I think that you can use a little of my warm and special soup."

"Karen, you don't know how guilty I feel to be giving you and Rick so much trouble."

"Never mind that, Dave. It´s okay. We're happy to help you. And now, take this. You´ll feel better." Karen gave Starsky some aspirins with a glass of water and fed him some spoonfuls of a delicious and warm chicken soup. He wasn't hungry at all, but his stomach was finally settled and the warm liquid was making him feel a little better.

"What happened to you? Why you were here, in the middle of the forest, walking in the storm?" asked Karen while she was still feeding spoonfuls of soup to Starsky.

"Well, Karen. Maybe it will be difficult for you to believe, but I was kidnapped."

"What?" Karen opened her eyes in surprise.

"Somebody has a grudge against my brother. Seemingly, Nick, my brother, owes a lot of money to this guy. And, well, his goons kidnapped me some days ago to force him to pay his debt. But I managed to escape. I took one of their cars but it crashed due to an icy patch on the road. I got out of the car and I began to walk until I got lost, and then I found your cabin."

"Dave! But...that's horrible! I wish we could call somebody for you, but you know that the phone is not working"

"Never mind, Karen. Rick and you have helped me more than I'll ever be able to return." Starsky laid down on the comfortable couch as his eyelids began to close. Rick and Karen helped him to go to the guest room- a small but cozy and very comfortable bedroom. Once there, Rick helped Starsky to go to the bathroom, get undressed, and into one of his pyjamas.

"We'll be in the next room. If you need something, just call us. Any time, okay? And, now, try not to worry and get some sleep. Tomorrow everything will be fine. Good night, Dave." The blonde man was speaking with a soothing voice, so like Hutch´s that Starsky, in his weakened condition, felt a lump in his throat and he only could whisper his thanks, unaware that would be the last time in which he would see Rick alive...

Despite his worry and discomfort, Starsky, wrapped by the warm covers, fell asleep quickly, overwhelmed by exhaustion.

In the wee hours of the morning, all three were sleeping and the cabin was totally silent when all hell broke loose. Starsky awoke quickly when he heard a loud noise. Somebody had battered down the front door. Using all his willpower, he got out of bed when he heard an angry and well-knowed voice.

"Where is he? The cop? Where's the fucking cop?" Starsky could hear Karen's voice, soft as a whisper, though he couldn´t understand all her words. His kidnappers had taken his gun the first day of his captivity and he was disarmed and totally defenseless, but despite this, he had to help the kind people who took care of him and helped him so gently. Painfully, he went down the stairs to the living room when he heard a shot and Karen yelling out.

"NO!! RICK...RICK....NOOOOOO!! DAMNED SONS OF A BITCH!!...Rick...Rick My sweetheart. Talk to me, honey. Open your eyes for me," Karen whispered, kneeling down and trying to find any sign of life in Rick's body that was lying on the floor as a spot of blood was spreading over his abdomen.

"Hey, lady! Don´t blame us. This guy stepped over the line. Trying to get his gun wasn't a good idea." Both men bursted into sinister laughter.

"You both were looking for me and I´m here. You don´t need to hurt her," Starsky spoke firmly, grasping the banisters to not fall down.

"Hey, look what we have here! The bird came out of his nest. Martinelli will be pleased. Come on, pig!" One of the men jerked brusquely the Starsky´s arm causing him a wave of pain, while the other one began to tie Karen with a rope. The woman was so upset by her husband's murder that she didn´t offer any resistance.

"Leave her alone. Martinelli wants only me."

"Good try, brave boy, but here we make the rules. Come on!" Karen and Starsky were dragged to a van, dressed only in their pyjamas. The cold from the outside and the back of the van was simply unbearable. Tied next to Karen, Starsky´s body was screaming out in pain while his heart was breaking to see the deep fear and sorrow of the young woman. Martinelli´s men took them back to the cabin where Starsky was held before, and, once there, long and terrifying hours began again.

***

Five days had passed since the day Starsky was missing and there were no clues on his whereabouts at all. Hutch was staying in a New York hotel while keeping up a frantic search, scarcely sleeping or eating, getting in touch every day with Dobey and Nick just in case they had some news about his partner's whereabouts. He was also working with the NYPD, though unofficially, since it wasn't his jurisdiction.

"Cap, Starsky could be anywhere and we have to find him!"

"I´m sorry, son. We're doing everything in our power to do just that- all the police units, here and in NY, as well, are looking for him, but there's nothing. Not even the smallest lead to go on. Listen, Hutch, this is very hard, damn it! Hardest thing to admit, but maybe we should be ready forMaybe StarskyHe´s"

"NO!!" Hutch loudly hit the nightstand with his fist. "Starsky is alive. He has to be!!" He slammed the receiver with anger. At that moment, somebody knocked on the door. He opened it and was surprised to see Nick Starsky there. He was looking very upset and was squeezing his hands.

"Nicky! What the hell are you doing here? Something new about Starsk?"

The youngest Starsky was looking pale. "I´m afraid so, Hutch. We need to have a talk."

"Damn it, Nick! OUT WITH IT! What's the matter?"

"I know who kidnapped Dave."

"WHAT? Damned bastard!!" Hutch dragged Nick into the room, closing brusquely the door.

"How long have you known something?" Hutch was fiercely grasping Nick's collar.

"FoFour days. I´m sorry. I´m sorry, Hutch, but I´m scared. He told me that they would kill Dave if I talked to the police. He also said that the guys that are guarding Dave aren't very fond of cops and whether Davy is alive or not, we'll can´t even finger him. If we do, his friends will kill mom. I believe him, Hutch. I really do. He's a very powerful man. I've tried to find Dave by myself. But I can´t do it."

"BUT WHO! FOR GOD'S SAKE! Who is HE and why is he holding Starsky?" In front of a menacing looking Hutch, Nick began to tell him the whole story. He told Hutch how he was introduced to Martinelli in a poker gambling den, how he joined the games and how, in the beginning, he was winning all the hands.

"One night I was winning, over and over. I was having a true stroke of luck and, then, I got up all my courage. I was betting a lot of bucks"

"How much?" Nick didn't answered

"HOW MUCH, NICK?"

"2500.00. I lost the game. I can´t find any way to get all that money, Hutch, but, if I don´t pay him in two days, then Martinelli´s hit men will kill Davy."

"Let me understand the whole thing. You're telling me that you're playing poker games with Vincent Martinelli? A guy who by the way is a suspect in things like drug trafficking, money laundering, among other crimes? And that all your family is in danger because of your stupidity? And that you knew who had Starsky from the first day? Oh, man! This is too much, even for somebody as despicable as you." Then, Hutch lost his self control. "YOU´RE STUPID! A TRUE STUPID PIG! NOTHING ELSE!!" Hutch pinned Nick against the wall, grasping him by the front of his shirt. "You don't understand, do you? You have fallen into the oldest trap in the world, damned asshole. He allowed you to win some games and, then, when you were enticed enough...Bang! Surely cheating, with his pals' help, Martinelli got even your boxers!!"

"I´m sorry, Hutch. I´m really sorry." Nick was looking terrified at a Hutch totally out of control.

"What do we do now, Hutch?"

" Look for Starsky, of course."

"But...How? Where?"

"God! How can somebody be as dumb as you? I'm going to Martinelli, and, once there, he better tell me where Starsky is. And, if later, Rachel catches even a bad cold, I'll blow up his head! You can be sure of that! Alright, now, call him."

"Who?"

"What do you mean, who? Certainly not Spiderman, that's for sure. Martinelli, of course. Who else?"

"I´m...I´m afraid that I can't do that, Hutch." Hutch sighed deeply before answering in a soft and menacing voice. "Why the hell can't you call him? Huh?"

"´Cause he´s out of the city. He can't be found."

"SHIT! Nick! I could easily kill you for this. How are you supposed to pay that bastard if he can't be found?"

"He´s calling me every 48 hours. He´ll call me tomorrow. At 3 p.m."

"No way. We can't wait until tomorrow; it would be too dangerous for Starsky." Hutch picked up the phone to call Dobey, to fill him in on the news.

"Can we put a tap on Martinelli´s phone, Cap?"

"We would need a judicial order to do it, Hutch. It's another jurisdiction. It's New York. That could take some time."

"Damn it, Cap. We haven't got any time!"

"Listen, Hutch, the usual procedure"

"TO HELL WITH THE USUAL PROCEDURE! I´m going to find Starsky."

Hanging up the phone, he grabbed his jacket, dragging Nick towards the door.

"Come on! We're going to Martinelli´s to look for any leads to find Starsk. But let me say something to you, Nick Starsky. Right now you´ll help me find your brother, but if something has happened to him, then you're a dead man. You can bet on that."

Hutch and Nick headed towards Martinelli Enterprises. Along the way both men remained silent, Hutch staring at the road ahead him- Nick, looking out the window. Ten minutes later, Hutch parked in front of a luxurious building that held a large construction company that, in fact, was nothing but a cover for all Martinelli´s illegal activities- drug trafficking, money laundering, among other crimes.

"Okay, now we'll go in there, and you´ll ask the receptionist to see Martinelli."

"He won't be there, Hutch."

"Damn it, Nick! I can see right through you. Know something? At times, I think that Rachel found you under some cabbage plant when you were a baby. You can´t really be Starsky´s brother!" Hutch breathed deeply before he spoke again.

"Okay. If Martinelli is not there, then we need to know where he is. I have to guess that his secretary won't know anything about Starsk´s kidnapping, and Martinelli and his goons will be the only ones who do know it." Hutch's impatience was increasing dangerously, and Nick knew that he'd be more safe following his instructions point by point. "For sure she won't let us know Martinelli´s whereabouts. I can´t just say to her that I´m a cop, cause the first thing that she would do is tell and, then Starsky would be a dead man. You have to distract her and, meanwhile, I'll try to find some information. Alright? You´ll go in first and, try to distract her, then I'll come in. But remember. We aren't there together. Ah! One mistake and I'll wring your stupid neck. Ask her for a date, try to convert her to Buddhism, kiss her, or pretend to have a heart attack, anything. That's up to you; just give me time enough to find something."

"To find what, Hutch?"

"I don´t know. An agenda, some information. Anything."

A minute later, Nick was in front of the receptionist's desk while Hutch waited out of her sight, in front of the elevators.

"Sorry, Miss, but could you help me?"

"Sure, sir. What I can do for you?"

"Well. I'd like to see Mr. Martinelli."

"Oh! Sorry, sir. Right now Mr. Martinelli is out of the city and I´m afraid I can´t call him right now. He´s in an important business meeting but, if you want, I can give him a message."

***

Karen lost count of all the times that the men beat Starsky. In the morning, she was about to pass out from all the horror that she, tied to her spot on the floor, was forced to watch in the last hours.

"Damned cop!" Punch "Martinelli was out of his mind with anger when he found out that you had fled!" Kick.

"Yeah. And he blamed us for that!" The goon named Rob raised Starsky from the floor and Joe punched his stomach a couple of times.

"PLEASE!! Leave him alone!! You're gonna kill him!" Karen shouted out tearfully, even knowing that her pleading would be as useless as it was the other times in which she tried to defend him. Both men forgot momentarily Starsky´s bleeding form, which fall hard to the floor with a plop.

"Hey! The chick keeps worrying about the cop. This is sooo tender! Guess what, princess? You won't have to worry too much longer about your friend. He'll be dead soon, very soon. As dead as your husband is. Bang!" Karen closed her eyes tightly, trying to remove from her mind the awful image of Ricky getting shot, and his dead body bleeding on the floor. "This is just a little fun. Although, maybe we would have more fun with you." Joe approached Karen and began to touch her breasts trying to kiss her.

"LEAVE HER ALONE, YOU PIG!!" Starsky, using all his willpower, managed to get to his feet, rushing against Joe. Rob stopped him and the beating began again. Joe went over to kill Starsky until Rob stopped him.

"Hey! Hey, hey, Joe. Take it easy, okay? The cop must stay alive, remember? He´s Martinelli´s IOU."

"This son of a bitch!..."

"Yeah. I know. Really, I don´t care about him any more than you do. But Martinelli is gonna kill us if something bad happens to that guy." Joe calmed down and Rob kept talking. "And, now, how about some pizza and a couple of beers? Huh? Forget them for a while. I´m hungry." Both men headed to the kitchen, leaving Starsky and Karen alone, at least for awhile.

"Karen, are you all right? Did they hurt you?" Karen was crying silently and still shaking by the sick feeling caused by the dirty hands on her body and the smell of beer on their breath.

"Yeah, I'm ok." With a lot of effort, she rose from the floor approaching Starsky's beaten form, feeling more helpless then ever before in her whole life. She wanted to help Starsky in any way, but was unable even to touch him due to the ropes that were holding her wrists behind her back.

"Dave...Dave, please. Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes for me? Dave!" He opened his eyes and tried to give her a reassuring smile, but every part of his body was aching. Looking into Karen eyes, Starsky could see all her despair and sadness.

"I'm sorry, Karen, for all that happened, for Rick's death. All of this is my fault. I never will be able to forgive myself."

"No, Dave. You had no other choice but to knock on our door. You were going to die out there. Nothing is your fault, okay? Things simply turned out wrong. You couldn't imagine that those monsters would find you, and that they would kill a man in cold blood. Rick tried to protect usto protect our home." She started to cry again, and Starsky remained in a respectful silence unable to say or do anything to sooth the young woman who had just lost her husband in such a terrible way.

 

***

"Linda, huh? Beautiful name. Do you like pasta, Linda? I know a wonderful restaurant where they do a terrific pasta. How about dinner? You know, candles, pasta, Chianti." Nick managed to get the receptionist away from her desk, pretending a sudden dizzy spell, to end it a minute later sitting down on the couch with the beautiful and blond secretary worrying about him, and asking her for a date.

Meanwhile, Hutch approached her desk, though he had some trouble keeping his hands out of the sight of the efficient girl.

In seeing Hutch near her desk, Linda turned her head, looking at him with eagle's eyes, but a professional smile.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Ooooouugh!... Linda." Nicky again distracted the girl by moaning painfully. Despite the tension of the moment, Hutch thought that Nick was doing the greatest performance of his live, even looking really sick. "Don´t go, Linda. Please. The room is spinning. I´m...I´m diabetic, you know? And I´m afraid that right now I´m having a hypoglycemic attack. I could pass out any moment. Could you bring me some coffee or juice, please? I think that this gentleman can wait a couple of minutes. You don´t mind, sir?"

"Of course," Hutch answered, amazed by the histrionic skills of Nick.

"Very sweet, please, Linda." The girl hurried towards the coffee maker placed in a corner of the luxurious reception area to get a coffee for Nick, giving Hutch time enough to look at the agenda that was resting on the dark mahogany table and to slide quickly out the door.

***

For the last few hours, Starsky was going in and out of unconsciousness while Karen kept talking soothing words to him, trying to ease a little of his pain and her own fear.

"Dave, try to hold on. Somebody will help us. Please. Don't fall asleep. Try to stay awake. Your friend will find us." A new fit of coughing shook Starsky´s entire body while he curled over himself in a tight ball as a thread of blood slid out from his lips. At the same time, Karen was cutting her wrist in an useless attempt to get free from the ropes to help him. The young woman was terrified looking at the agony of the man in front of her as she was sure that he couldn't hold on too much longer.

***

Hutch and Nick were back again in the hotel, reading the agenda notes.

"Nothing! There's nothing useful!" Hutch rose from the couch, throwing the agenda against the wall, boiling up with frustration. "Appointments, phone calls, the usual stuff, but no valid clue!" Starsky´s brother looked hopelessly at Hutch. When he bent to the floor, he looked again at the notebook with a concentrated look.

"Wait...wait a moment. That notation." On a page of the agenda, directions to some place were written.

"This handwriting is different from the rest, and this address doesn't look like any place in New York City, or any other major city for that matter, as the others are. Look. A two days´ journey to Philadelphia on December 5th . A call to a Boston telecommunications company, January 15th . Here's an appointment at a lawyer's office in Washington set for January 27th . And here an address in some place called Brewster. No date, no phone number, not any other note. Just that address, followed by two letters- NS.

"It could be my initials. Maybe that address has some connection with Davy!!" Nick said, feeling a little hopeful.

"But where the hell is Brewster?" Hutch spoke softly almost to himself.

"If my memory serves me right, this is a town located about 60 or 70 miles north of here, in Putnam County. What would Martinelli have in a place like that, Hutch?"

"I don't know, Nick, but I´m going to find out." Hutch was already heading towards the door, with Nick some steps behind him.

"Where do you think you're going, Nick?"

"I'm going with you, of course."

"No, Nick. No way. I´m going to Brewster alone. I haven't the faintest idea about what I'll find there or even if I'll find something. But this won't be a picnic. This is police work."

"Okay, so then, call the police." Both men exchanged an intense look. "Hutch. Who's kidnapped- my brother. And it´s my fault. Besides, here in New York, you are as much of a policeman as I am. You know it. So, if you're going there, I'm going, too." Hutch shook his head slightly.

"Okay, Nick, but once we're there, you don´t get yourself into any trouble. Is that clear?" Nick nodded, and they both rushed to the car.

"Tire chains, Hutch. We'll need tire chains." The snow was falling down again over New York.

"We've no time to waste, Nick."

"That's not wasted time. We need go to Brewster, not to the hospital. The road will be totally covered by snow and icy patches."

"Okay. Maybe you're right." Hutch stopped at a mall near the city, to buy the tire chains and, a little later, with the chains fixed to the wheels, they were on their way to Putnam County. At first, the highway allowed Hutch to drive pretty fast, though about twenty miles later, the road began to be increasingly hard to drive. Despite the increasing violence of the snow storm, Hutch was doing all in his power to reach Brewster, as fast as possible, feeling a well-knowed sensation tickling in the bottom of his stomach. I´m coming, StarskI don't know what's happening to you, but hold on, partner, I´m coming. Wherever you are, I'll find you. Just hold on

 

***

Joe and Rob forgot their prisoners for a long while. They both were in the kitchen becoming drunker with every passing moment, as was the case almost daily. Both men were fed up being Starsky´s guards, and their duties were getting more complicated. Rick´s murder, and not one prisoner but two, wasn't in their plans. On the other hand, to be practically shut in a cabin, in the forest and with constant snowstorms wasn't doing anything but increasing their nervousness. One moment, they could release all their rage against Starsky and, in the next one, they both could fight between themselves as true madmen.

A while later, after drinking some beers in the kitchen, Rob and Joe climbed the stairs slowly to their bedroom to take a nap.

Karen, overcoming her own sadness and swallowing her tears, kept talking to an unresponsive Starsky. His breaths were short and painful, and Karen thought that any of these breaths could be the last one. Since she couldn't do anything else for him, at least she wanted him to feel that he wasn't alone. That he wouldn't die alone.

"Where would you be right now, huh?" Starsky just could hear a sweet and calm voice talking to him. "On a warm beach, maybe? Or in your house, with your friend, Hutch. That's his name, right? So why don't you try to picture it? It works, that's for sure. But, to do that, you must be awake. Okay? Come on, Dave. I'll begin" Karen fervently wished to keep the man alive, as she wished that their captors wouldn't beat him any more.

Finally, Rob and Joe seemed to be sleeping. Karen was sitting down on the floor, with her arms and hands totally numb from the long hours spent tied and looking at Starsky who most of the time was dozing, trembling violently from the cold. Surprisingly though right then, he was looking silently at the young woman, transmitting all his pain and sorrow without words, just with his dark blue eyes.

***

Once in Brewster, Hutch drove awhile through Main Street trying to find someone to ask about the place that they were looking for, but the whole town looked empty due to the intense snowfall. Finally, he parked the car in front of a fast food place. Inside, several truck drivers were taking a break for lunch or just to drink some beers. Three waitresses were pretty busy, carrying plates and coffee pots from the kitchen to the tables, and Hutch approached one of them.

"What would you like, dear?" she asked looking at Hutch with sudden interest.

"Have you seen this man any time?" Hutch showed Starsky's picture to the red-haired woman.

"Oh, no. If I had seen a guy like him in this hell hole of the world, you can be sure that I wouldn't let him fly. Hey. Don´t get jealous. You're pretty cute, too." The girl looked at Hutch mischievously while refilling a customer's cup of coffee.

"Okay. Let's try once more. Could you tell me how we can get to the Three Firs Cabin?"

"Three Firs Cabin, huh? Sure, but I'd like to know why all the big city people are so interested in that place lately. It's just an old cabin in the outskirts surrounded by three firs."

"Why...why would you say that?" Hutch's heart lurched a little to hear the girl's comment.

"Oh! Well, that cabin was forgotten ages ago, but my Jimmy told me a couple of days ago he saw a van with a NYC license plate parked there. And now you want to get there, too."

"Please, miss, please. This is very important." Hutch took her arm, showing his badge to the girl, who hurried to give him some instructions how to get there.

"Thanks. Now I need to make a phone call." She pointed with her head towards the phone placed on a wall. Hutch dialled the Brewster Police Station. After three rings that, for Hutch, lasted ages, somebody picked up the phone.

"I´m Detective Sergeant Hutchinson, from Bay City Police. I need a couple of units and an ambulance at Three Firs Cabin right now. I think my partner is being held there." On the other side of the line, a man's voice sounded bored. "Yeah, sure thing. And tell me, why would I believe you, huh? Come on, man. How about going home and sleeping it off? You know? It´s too early to be drunk and kidding around."

"DAMNED ASSHOLE!!" All the customers in the restaurant became silent when they heard Hutch's shout. "My partner could be dying there! Call Captain Dobey in Bay City Police Station, 9th precinct. He´ll confirm that I´m not joking. And for God's sake, send the units and the ambulance there. HURRY UP!!" Hutch hung up the receiver, nodding his thanks to the waitress, and racing to the car.

Later, Karen couldn't remember how it all began. First, in the silence of the forest she could hear the sound of cars stopping near the cabin, and the soft crack of some footsteps walking through the snow. Then somebody knocking at the door.

"Open the door. Come on. Let me in!"

"Hu-Hutch," Starsky whispered, weakly. At that moment, Rob came down the stairs, staggering and scratching his head.

"Who is it?"

"Police! Let me in! The house is surrounded, and you haven't a chance so give up!"

"Damn it! Joe! Wake up- the police are here.WAKE UP!" But Joe was still sleeping it off, and could not hear Rob's screams.

"We got the cop and the lady! And we'll kill them! GO AWAY OR WE´LL KILL THEM!!" Rob was holding Karen, covering her mouth with his hand, while looking for his gun with his other hand. Suddenly, she bit his hand with all her might, forcing the man to release her.

"Aaaughhhh! DAMNED BITCH I´LL KILL YOU!" Rob yelled out. Then, everything seem to happen in just a second. While Hutch and Nick were battering down the door, and Joe was coming down the stairs, Rob tried to shoot Karen. But Starsky, with his last ounce of energy, got to his feet, pushed the girl to the floor, taking her away from the bullet's trajectory. Hutch rushed towards Rob, K.O'ed him in a second with only a single punch to his face. Meanwhile, Nick was fighting Joe, until two police officers helped him, bringing the man down in a matter of seconds.

"HUTCH" Nick yelled, totally pale, staring at Starsky´s form on the floor.

"GOD! Starsk! THE PARAMEDICS! OVER HERENOW!!"

At that moment, Karen was already untied by an officer. She was emotionally and physically drained, and close to completely breaking down.

"He pushed me. That shot was for me. But he Dave put himself between the bullet and me." Karen murmured to herself while Hutch and Nick were untying Starsky´s wrists, covering his cold body with Hutch´s coat. "Hold on, partner. We're going to take you to the hospital. Everything is over, buddy. Everything is over."

"Hutch...Hurts It hurts."

"I know, Starsk. Try to hold on a little more, okay?"

"Ka-Karen is?"

"I´m fine, Dave." The young woman kneeled down beside Starsky caressing his hair and smiling tearfully at him. "That shot was for me, Dave. Thanks." Hutch was carefully checking Starsky's entire body. The bullet was lodged in his shoulder, and it didn't look as bad as Hutch first thought, but there wasn't any spot on his body that wasn't wounded or beaten.

Nick gave Karen his coat and his boots for her naked feet. The young woman was trembling visibly. The paramedics were already carrying Starsky to the ambulance, to get him to a hospital, with Hutch beside him, while the police officers were taking Joe and Rob to the patrol car. Nick took Karen to the hospital in the car since the girl firmly refused to go there in the ambulance.

The way back to Brewster was short but difficult. The sky was pretty dark due to the endless snowstorm and huge icy patches were covering the road. Karen was in the front seat and a dense silence was hanging heavily between her and Nick. They both had a lot of questions to ask but neither Nick nor Karen felt much like talking. The woman was too upset even to cry when the car was going past her cabin, where her husband's corpse was.

A half an hour later, the ER doctors and nurses were working on them both. While the woman was practically unharmed, just cold, pretty upset, and with some scratches on her wrists, the man seemed seriously injured.

Just a little while after their arrival, Karen was allowed to leave the ER cubicle after the doctors checked her. They advised the woman to spend a couple of days at least in the hospital, but she firmly refused. She had something much more important to do. To go back to her cabin, and to say her last good-bye to Rick. So, she entered the waiting room, still in her pyjamas, but with a pair of nurse's clogs on her feet. After asking about Starsky´s condition, she filled Hutch in about all that had happened, begging his help to get her to her cabin.

"I need to get there, Detective Hutchinson. I need it. Rick is out there alone, and I need to tell him something." Then, Karen broke down, crying with a heartrending weeping that shook her entire body. Hutch, leaving aside just for a moment his own worry about Starsky, surrounded her with his arms trying to offer a little bit of comfort, and feeling deeply sorry for her misfortune. In that moment, Nick was simply overwhelmed by his guilt. Not just his brother was kidnapped and beatened wildly by those nuts, but a man was dead, and a woman had her life ruined. Just by his stupidity. Unable to bear his own remorse, he flew, running desperately and not knowing where he was going. He ended up in the hospital's entrance stairway, weeping out loud, and indifferent to the people looking at him. Nick cried for his father's death, for all the times in which he gave sadness and troubles to his mother, for how little he cared about his brother, for all the times in which he felt alone, angry, and sad. Finally, he felt empty, drained and without any more tears to shed.

Hutch knew what the youngest Starsky was going through, and he thought that Nick needed a while to be alone, so after a call to the Brewster police station to ask for a patrol car to take Karen to the cabin, he sat down again to wait for Starsky´s doctor.

A police unit came to the hospital to get the woman and, after just a warm and silent embrace, she disappeared out the hospital exit.

Just as the ER Doctor was coming back from surgery, Nick entered the waiting room. His eyes were red from crying and, Hutch, forgetting for the first time in his life his total dislike for Starsky's brother, placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Someone here for David Michael Starsky?" Both Hutch and Nick rose from their chairs.

"I´m Doctor Stockman. Nice to meet you." The three men shook hands and the doctor began to fill them in on his patient's condition.

"Mr. Starsky suffered a hell of a beating. We got the bullet out of his shoulder, but besides that, he had a broken forearm, a lot of bruises and contusions, two broken ribs, and a perforated lung. He has lost a considerable amount of blood and his temperature is over 105 due to pneumonia. He´s dehydrated and a little anemic, too, but the main worry though, is his lungs' condition. By the way, can you tell me what's the origin of the scars that he has on his chest, abdomen, and even on his lungs' surface?" Hutch told the doctor about the Gunther shooting that happened almost two years before, and the doctor just nodded, guessing that it will be a hell of a recovery for the young man. "Well, we have repaired his lung wound and, right now, we're giving him large doses of antibiotics to treat the pneumonia. We're hoping for some improvement within the next forty eight hours, but he's not out of the woods yet. Mr. Starsky is in the ICU unit. You can be with him for a while, but he's heavily sedated, and also, he's on a respirator and he won't be able to talk for some days. Well, in a while, I'll check on him again. If you need me, I'll be here until tomorrow morning." That being said, Doctor Stockman left the waiting room, and Hutch and Nick headed towards the ICU area.

At the door of Starsky´s room, Nick was looking like a lost child, and Hutch felt for him. "Nick, you first. Okay?"

"But..."

"I know that you want to be with Starsk. Go on. I'll wait." Nick stared at Hutch for a few seconds before he entered Starsky´s room. Hutch saw through the window Nick sitting down at Starsky's bedside, talking to the sleeping form of his brother, and crying as well, and though he didn´t hear Nick's words, Hutch knew that some things were going to change definitively in Nick Starsky´s life.

Karen was finally back at her cabin. The place where she was so happy with her husband. Where they both spent so many nights loving each other in front of the fire. The place where, until a while ago, she had everything.

"Give me a minute, okay?" The police officer just nodded respectfully at Karen, and she went in.

The living room lights were still turned on, and everything was looking as it always looked, though the whole place seemed dark and unreal now to Karen. She walked some steps, with her eyes blinded by tears until she came to where Rick´s bloodstained corpse was lying. The woman knelt down beside it, holding out her hand to remove a blond lock of hair from his forehead.

"I´m here, my sweetheart. You're not alone anymore. Now I´m with you. And I´m okay. Know something? He saved my life. Dave. He seems to be a great guy." More tears ran down Karen's cheeks. "Okay, okay. I won't cry, you wouldn't like that. Besides, I have great news for you. We did it, my sweetheart. I´m pregnant. The doctors found it out earlier. We going to have a baby. Isn't it wonderful? Though I´m a little scared. I don't know if I'll be able to be a good mom. But you´ll help me do it. Right?" When Karen burst into tears, an officer approached her silently. "I´m okay," she said raising her hand without looking at him.

"Now, I must go, honey. They must take you to another place. Though I guess that you're already in another place. A place much better that this." Karen left her husband's side with a last caress to his soft golden hair. "I'll always love you, Rick." The woman rose and climbed the stairs to her bedroom to get dressed. Later, she left the cabin walking towards the forest without a look back while the coroner was taking Rick´s corpse to the wagon.

When Nick left the room, Hutch went in. The youngest Starsky went back to NY City on a bus to tell Rachel the news, while Hutch spent uncountable hours watching his best friend sleep, talking soothing words to him, escaping the nurse's vigilance or begging her to allow him to stay at Starsky´s side as he had done many other times in the past.

At night, Rachel and Nick arrived. Starsky´s mother briefly embraced Hutch, whispering her thanks before hurrying towards Starsky´s ICU room to start her watch over the most beloved person in her life. Hutch took advantage of that break to think about a matter that was worrying him more than anybody could guess. Martinelli´s threat. That man was going to be arrested. And, in consequence, Rachel would be in danger. Hutch knew that the threats of guys like that weren't just empty words.

Plunged in those thoughts, Hutch headed towards the cafe to get some sandwiches and call Dobey. He had forgotten it totally until that moment, but their captain would be worried out of his mind waiting to hear something about Hutch's search.

After filling him in about all that happened, Hutch took a couple of minutes to call Huggy. The man was very fond of Starsky and he was spending very long days worrying over his "Curly-headed brother" as he called Starsky.

"Hi, Huggy. I have good news. I found Starsk, though he´s in the Brewster hospital pretty badly beatened, with some broken bones, pneumonia, and a perforated lung. I´m really worried, Huggy. He looks so bad."

"Hey, don't break down, bro. Starsk has more lives than a cat. He will be fine. I´m sure. And you know, if you need me, just pick up the phone and Huggy will be there to be with my curly-headed brother."

"I know, Huggy, Thanks." Hutch smiled softly at the other side of the line.

"And now, Hutch. Mind telling your friend Huggy what happened? Where was Starsky?"

"That's a hell of a long story, Huggy. He was kidnapped by a guy who wanted to get the money that Starsky´s brother owed him. A gaming debt, by the way."

"Wow, my man! And who was the guy?"

"Do you know Vincent Martinelli?"

Huggy whistled. "Yeah, that guy is more famous than Al Capone. Though there are some things in his life that are more...How I could put it? Hidden, if you get my drift."

"What the hell are you saying, Huggy? I´m afraid that right now I´m totally lost."

"Well, I´m not surprised. These aren't the kind of things that a man like him would want to be spreading around. In fact, I only know because Benny, my youngest cousin, works as a waiter at the Black Diamond. You know. That club so selective in New York that it's just for rich and Special gentlemen."

The information that Huggy gave to Hutch about Martinelli was a bomb. A true bomb that could keep that dangerous man far from Starsky´s family forever.

Turned out that Martinelli was keeping a love relationship with another man for a long time now. And that man was Senator Ted Fletcher, one of the richest, most respected, and influential men in New York's society. Benny, Huggy's 20 years old cousin, saw them together more than once, and even better. He had proof. In a wager with one of his fellow waiters, he took some pictures of Martinelli and Fletcher in some compromising moments, though once the kidding was over, the young Benny, despite knowing that some magazines and tabloids would pay a little fortune for that kind of picture, was too scared to show those pictures, so, finally, he put them some months ago in a bank deposit box. Huggy gave Hutch Benny's address, and called his cousin to tell him about Hutch's visit.

When Hutch hung up the receiver, his mind was racing. He had to figure out some way to convince Benny to give him or even to sell him those valuable pictures, and make sure he understood that he wouldn't be in danger. At the moment, the first thing to do was to go to New York to talk with him.

Going back to Starsky´s room, he approached Nick.

"Look, Nick. I must go back to New York. I'll be back here as soon as possible."

"But...Why? What is so important that it can't wait?"

"Your family's safety, Nick. Take care of Starsk and Rachel." And with no more explanations, Hutch left.

He arrived at New York more than two hours later and, once in the city, he headed towards The Black Diamond. The club was already closed and, without a second thought, he drove towards Benny's apartment.

Five minutes later, Hutch was climbing the stairs at Benny´s place. The young man was already waiting for him and, after just one ring, he opened the door, letting Hutch go into the little living room.

"Do you want a beer?" Benny asked, heading towards the fridge.

"No, thanks, Benny. ListenI´m here to ask you for something very important." The young Benny just looked at Hutch.

"The pictures, Benny. The pictures of Vincent Martinelli and Ted Fletcher that you have in a safety deposit box at the bank. I need them."

"NO! No way! If those guys saw those pictures and they found out that I was the one who took them, I'd be killed. To take those photos was a truly stupid thing to do. I should have burned them up."

"Maybe. But you didn´t and now those pictures can save a human life. The life of my partner's mother, Benny."

***Early that morning, in a joint effort between the Brewster police and the NYPD, the Martinelli Company finally was brought down. Hutch, although being most of the time by Starsky´s side at the hospital, followed the whole process of Martinelli's arrest.

The moment when two NYPD detectives were entering his office, Martinelli was there making a phone call.

In seeing the detectives' badges, Linda, his secretary, did not offer any resistance so when the door was opened, Martinelli had no time to think about some way to run away.

Hutch was present during the interrogations and Martinelli was informed that that blond policeman was the partner of Nick Starsky´s brother. That day, Hutch asked to see Martinelli in private. The man felt very uncomfortable in front of the cop with the cold baby blue eyes. But he kept showing his arrogance.

"Your partner had a lot of luck," Martinelli said with a defiant expression.

"Do you think so, Martinelli? Although it doesn't seem it now because you are going to jail and your criminal structure has crumbled, it´s you who has a lot of luck. It could have been worst, you can be sure about that."

"I´m afraid that I don't know what you mean, Detective."

"Hutchinson. Detective Hutchinson. Okay, and now, let's get to the point, Martinelli. I have a lot of interesting information about you and your private life- information that the press would be very pleased to have by the way." Martinelli´s face lost its arrogant expression as Hutch kept talking. "I know a lot of details about your long term friendship with a certain honorable senator. Fletcher's his name, isn't it? Oh! Though maybe you know him better as my sweetheart? Or honey, maybe?" Then Hutch bent towards Martinelli with such a look that it froze him in his spot. "If you think that this is your end, can you picture what will happen to your lover when all NY City knows about your little secret? What your wives will think about it? And your relatives, sons, and daughters? And what will happen to the political career of Fletcher?"

Martinelli became pale.

"NoYou don´t have any proof."

"Yeah, Martinelli. I have it." Hutch threw the pictures brusquely on the table. "And I have the negatives, of course, so don´t waste your time tearing them."

"Ple-Please, leave him out of this, please! How...how did you find out?" At that point, the man was looking completely astonished and desperate.

"Never mind. I know it and that's all you need to know! Look, Martinelli. Usually I don't give a damn about what people do in their private lives, but you don't know me. You don't know what I am capable of doing when someone hurts my partner or threatens his family. That's a very different matter."

Recovering his voice, Martinelli tried to look cool.

"Are you threatening me, Officer?"

"YES. and I mean it! If I find out that you or some of your men come near my partner or anyone in his family, God help you. I will take great pleasure in destroying your life, the lives of your whole family, and Senator's Fletcher's life, too." The cold look in Hutch's eyes was enough to convey clearly to Martinelli that those weren't just words of a policeman trying to intimidate a criminal.

"No. Please, just let the Senator alone. Let my family alone."

"I'll do it, if you leave the Starsky family alone as well." Then, looking directly into Martinelli´s eyes, Hutch shouted, "Guards!"

Nervous, Martinelli swallowed, but breathing freely when he was taken out of the room that he had shared with Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson.

***

Karen took care of all the arrangements for Rick's funeral. Afterwards, she went back to her job and her life in New York, but the apartment where she and her husband lived, the city, and even the friends that they both had in common, were bringing Karen too many memories of Rick and her lost happiness. So, she decided to leave New York and to start a new life in another place. She asked her boss, Mr McHatty, for a transfer to the company's office in Bay City and, because of her special circumstances, he agreed without any objections.

She never felt this sad and lonely before in her life. She was plunged into a deep hole and unable to find a way out, though in the middle of her sadness, something blessed had come and, for this, she would live and fight. Suddenly, Karen remembered someone who was still in the hospital and would be very happy hearing the news.

***

Starsky´s recovery was slow and hard, though he had his mother and Hutch always by his side. Rachel was very upset and worried knowing all that her beloved son had to go through. There was also Nicky's part in all this that tore at her heart. Her distress was easing as Starsky was getting better and Nick was finally free from his debts and Martinelli´s threats.

When Starsky was better, Hutch listened to him and tried to help him overcome the ordeals that he suffered and the incredible guilt he felt as he talked about Rick and Karen.

"It was my fault, Hutch. Rick is dead and Karen is a widow just because I was there"

"Listen, Starsk. That wasn't your fault at all. That was the only place where you could go to ask for help in that forest. If you hadn't gone there, you'd be dead now."

"Yeah. And Rick would be alive and he and Karen would be still together."

"Starsk, partner, how can I make you understand that it wasn't your fault?"

"Maybe I can" Both men turned their heads to look at the newcomer entering the room. It was Karen. Dressed in black, pale, and with dark shadows under her eyes, but looking calm, though she was still recovering from the awful experience she had lived through days before. The young woman approached Starsky´s bed, taking his hand. When she spoke, her voice was filled with emotion as her eyes were blurred by her tears. Despite that, a little brightness was in her look.

"Dave, Rick will not be with me any more. And he was everything to me, I will not lie to you. I´m sad. I´m more sad, lost, and alone than I can say, but it wasn't your fault. I don´t think that you're guilty of my husband's death, and I'll never think it. You saved my life, and I'll be grateful to you forever. I just wish that you can leave your remorse behind. Okay? I'm very happy to see that you are doing fine and knowing that soon you will go back to your house. Before that, I have some special news that I want to share with you. I´m pregnant, Dave. This was always Rick's dream. He wanted more than anything in his life to be a father. Unfortunately, he will never know what it is to be a father. But I'll have our baby with me. And in this way, a little part of Rick will always be by my side. So, that night, taking that bullet for me, you saved not a life but two." Starsky was speechless for some minutes. Then, he swallowed his tears, trying to keep his feelings under control.

"Karen, I´m grateful that you came here to tell me this, but I don't deserve your consideration. I put Rick and you in the middle of that horrible situation, unintentionally, I know, but, I'm sorry anyway. Sorry as never before in my life."

"That's the whole point, David. Unintentionally, but you were brave enough to put your life in God's hands just to save mine...our life now." She tenderly caressed her belly. "You are a very special man. God saved your life because he has a purpose for you. We may never know what that purpose is, but the Lord gave you a second chance so let's just wait and see. I'm sure that it will be something special to a lot of people. You're a cop. A good cop. And a very good man. I know it.

Well, Dave. And, now, I must go. In a few days, I´m heading to Bay City, and I still have a lot of things to do."

"Bay City? We live there," Starsky said, surprised.

"I know that. Well, maybe someday we'll see each other again. I don't know. The only sure thing is that right now I just want to be alone, to forget, and put some order back in my life. I´m selling our apartment and the cabin and I'll try to start over, but far from New York. That city is too filled with memories for me. And, you, just take care. Okay?" Squeezing Starsky´s hand gently, and nodding her good- byes to Hutch, Karen left the room.

Starsky remained silent. He was born to be a cop. That's for sure. To protect and to serve others. So, maybe Karen was right. Maybe God has something special planned for his life. Hutch was so touched that, slyly, he went to the window, where he could let the tears flow, out of Starsky´s sight.

***

The next day, Starsky was trying to find something to do to ease his boredom after so many days in the hospital. He was watching TV with Hutch when he received another visitor.

There, shyly standing at the door, Nick was waiting until Starsky saw him.

At first, he was scared wondering how his brother would react to him after all his lies, and the way he hid from Starsky all his involvement and deals with Martinelli and his gaming debts. But, his love for his older brother was stronger and, soon, they had to deal with their differences. The truth was that Starsky was proud to see that his brother had enough bravery to seek Hutch's help, knowing he wouldn't be well received.

"Hey, Nick, come in. We need to have a talk." Nick entered the room and stood staring at an especially interesting floor tile.

"Nick. Hey, Nicky. Look at me."

"Look, Dave, I know that I disappointed you one more time, that I was lying againthat I got confused again. But...."

"It's okay, Nick. I don't have to say anything. I know that you felt scared enough these past days. Your decision to ask Hutch for help was the right one, Nick."

"I... felt so scared, Dave. I was scared out of my mind knowing that they could kill you. And, now, that murdered man, the whole thing was my fault. I... I´ll never forgive myself if...if they...If you" Tears were sliding down Nick's cheeks.

"I didn't die. And, within a few days, I´ll go home. And you.... Well. You´ll have to live with the consequences of your acts forever, I guess. But you got a new chance, Nick. Take advantage of it, get a job, ok? Something that perhaps doesn´t give you as much money as you would want, but that will be honest work. Nick, it's time to grow up. Our mother needs to live in peace."

"I know... I...I'll do what you want."

"Not what I want, but what is the right thing to do."

"Okay." Nick gave a little shy smile to Starsky, and left the room.

Starsky was not so sure if his younger brother would learn a lesson after the experience. Nick Starsky always was a mystery to his brother and he would continue being so. But, he loved him anyway, and he would do anything to see him happy.

The day finally came when Starsky was discharged from the hospital. As he was still weak, Hutch wanted him at Venice Place for a while. As soon as they arrived, Starsky sunk in the couch, but didn't miss the beautiful Christmas tree that was still in the corner of Hutch's living room.

"Hey, Blondie, it seems like you're still in the Christmas spirit."

"Yeah. I promised myself that as long as you weren't rescued and safe at home, I wouldn't take down the tree. Besides, there is still a gift waiting to be opened." Hutch grabbed the gift from under the tree, delivering it to Starsky. In seconds, the pretty parcel was torn open unceremoniously and Starsky´s eyes shone when he saw an obviously expensive book. Then he saw the title "The Complete New Book Of Photography"

"Oh, Hutch, you bought... "

"How long have you wanted it and was never able to buy it...'money was needed to help my mother... Aunt Rosie is in difficulties... my list this year is bigger.' The decreased pay you received during your medical leave after the shooting didn't help, either. It seemed that you would never be able to buy it. So, you like it?"

"Yeah, I like it very much. I... I don't know what to say..." His voice was really caught by emotion.

"Well, in that case, I should take you back to the hospital. You must not feel well."

"Hutch, thanks for saving me... for the gift and helping my brother. I know that he gives us only problems, but he is my brother and I love him... and..."

"Ok. You don't need to be thankful and you don't have to justify your love for your brother. He gets me mad sometimes, but you are here and in good shape, that is the most important thing. I think that my destiny is to be driven crazy with all the Starskys that I know."

Starsky was moved and decided to change the subject. "Do you want your gift?

It´s in my jacket. In the pocket."

Hutch got the jacket and removed a small box from one of the pockets. Hutch opened it and saw it was a beautiful pin with a Star of David on the top. It was an old piece. A piece of jewelry. Made of gold.

"Starsky, this is beautiful, but this is something that It's from your father, isn't it?"

"It was. Now it's yours. There's no one in this world, but you, that I want to give this to. Who deserves it. Who will love and will take care of it, like I would. Me and my mother- we thought about everything and we found out that there was only one thing in this world that we would like to give to you."

"Oh, God, Starsk, it's wonderful. Thank you so much, buddy. It's a responsibility that I will accept with all my heart."

"I know." A silence filled the room. A silence made of friendship, respect, and love. Solemnly, Hutch placed the pin on his shirt and smiled to his friend. The two men's eyes were filled with tears.

"Know something, Hutch?" Starsky broke the silence. "I´m thinking about Karen and her baby. That child will not have a father to spend even one Christmas day with. At least, I had my father for some time, and it was very important for me. Those are the best memories that I have. Hanukkah, Christmas. What a mix, hum?" Hutch smiled. He could see into his best friend's heart, and he knew that the guilt and remorse were still beating in Starsky´s gentle soul.

"Starsky, Karen seems to be a good woman. And a brave one, too. She will know how to give all the love that her baby will need. They will have many happy Christmas holidays. She is strong and will know how to reconstruct her life."

"Do you think that we'll ever see her again?"

"I don't know, Starsk. Right now, it seems that she only wants to be alone. She needs time. But if she wants or needs to find us, she'll won't have any problems doing it anyway. Or do you think there are a lot of police detectives named Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson in Bay City?"

"Not in Bay City, not in the whole world, I guess."

"You know, Starsk? One more time, you're right."

 

THE END

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