The Hunted (by Barbara)

Summary:    The boys are asked to solve a poaching problem north of Bay City and are terrorized by the men they are trying to apprehend.
Category:  Starsky & Hutch
Genre:  Crime
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  6088


 

PART ONE

The sound of their feet scrambling over the forest floor split the soggy air. It sounded like the unwrapping of cellophane from a pack of cigarettes. Their hearts pumped like the relentless drive of diesel engines at full throttle. They gasped for air trying to fill dry, desperate lungs that hung in their chests like two useless sandbags. Their ribcages ached with fatigue. They coughed and spat out the stuff their lungs secreted.

Sweat drenched hair stuck to their foreheads like wet thread. The juice in their legs had long ago turned to acid. It made them stumble. When one went down the other would pick him up and pushed him forward. They’d been running for hours and were close to spent.

Terror filled their senses. They looked over their shoulders to see if they could see their pursuers. There was no time to stop and make plans of escape. The only retreat it seemed was straight ahead as fast as possible.

“Do you see anything?”

“Just trees. You?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

“Just keep going Starsk.” Hutch panted as he bounded over a downed tree.

Hutch waited on the other side of the moss-covered trunk to help his partner over. Then they continued on. Sharp twigs and rocks cut their ankles. Low branches slapped their faces. Rough tree bark scraped their hands embedding splinters the size of toothpicks. There was no water in sight – just miles of wilderness to fight through.

“How’d we get into this mess?” Starsky asked between guttural gasps of breath.

“Just lucky I guess.” Hutch answered without making eye contact. He moved forward focused on making a path through the dense underbrush. “Now I know what a fox feels like.”

“I don’t feel lucky but you’re right about the fox.” Starsky complained – his throat so dry he could barely force sound from his windpipe.

“Do you want to stop?”

“I don’t think we should stop.” Starsky stated once again glancing behind him.

“We’re going to have to or we’ll never make it.”

“We’ll make it Hutch… we’ll make it.”

*****

That week had started like it always had. Starsky was late picking up Hutch and then, while driving to work, Hutch lectured Starsky on how to better organize his life. Starsky did what he always did when Hutch expounded… he ignored him.

Upon entry to the squad room the two detectives were summoned to Captain Dobey’s office where they were reamed about “borrowing” a citizen’s car after Hutch’s Ford LTD had died half way through a chase. Dobey ranted for several moments and the pair apologized as usual. Everything seemed perfectly normal to that point.

“You two have been temporarily reassigned.” The captain announced after he’d gotten a cup of water and settled behind his desk.

“Reassigned Cap?” Starsky asked innocently.

“I hate to admit it, but you two are my best men and the boys up in Fresno need some assistance.”

“Assistance Cap?”

“They’ve got a poaching problem in Sequoia National Park.”

“Poaching?”

“Starsky? If you don’t stop repeating my questions with a question I’m going to fire your ass right here and now!” Dobey blared.

“My ass Cap?” Starsky smirked deviously as if daring his boss to do just that.

Dobey took a moment to sigh and gain control again. He shook his head and looked at Hutch for help with his irritating partner but Hutch didn’t respond. He was used to it.

“Deer, fox, coyote, mountain lion – you name it. They’re all being shot and their furs sold on the black market. The poachers live like nomads – like old-fashioned mountain men.”

“How do the Fresno police know that?” Hutch asked with sincere interest.

“They’re Rangers have found the remains. Seems they skin the animal right then and there and leave the carcass behind for scavengers.”

“And why can’t they handle it?”

“They’re team has been unsuccessful so far and thought some detectives might do the trick. Besides they’re short staffed. Government cuts or something. There’s a recession you know. It’s in all the papers.”

“So, what do they want us to do?” The blonde cop questioned rubbing his chin inquisitively.

“They want you and Starsky to go up there and camp and try and track them down.”

“CAMP!” Starsky protested.

“Yeah. You know, tents, sleeping bags – the woods.”

“THE WOODS!”

“He’s doing it again Hutchinson.” Dobey pointed with ire at the curly-haired cop who was now sitting on the edge of his seat.

“He’ll be okay Captain.”

“Hutch. You know how much I hate the woods.” Starsky whimpered. “Water and trees and trees and water. It’s not fit for humans.”

“Of course it’s fit for humans, Starsk. Where do you think we all came from?”

“Well… my mother told me I came from heaven.”

“Heaven he says.” Dobey chuckled before continuing with the details of the assignment.

“I want you heading up there tomorrow morning and camped out no later then Wednesday morning. You got it?”

“On our way Captain.” Hutch was already standing.

“Why do we always get these cases?” Starsky grumbled still seated. “Can’t we just roam the streets of the city in peace like normal cops.”

“Nothing more peaceful than the forest Starsk. And who says we’re normal cops?”

“Don’t you remember the last time we went camping or have you forgotten about the Satan worshipers and the snakes.”

“Ah yes, I remember it well.” Hutch mocked a rendition from Gigi. “I thought that was fun.”

“FUN?” Starsky blurred. “Well, it wasn’t fun for me.”

“You just have to do it more often to appreciate it.”

“That’s right.” Dobey agreed, “Now get goin’.”

Hutch energetically moved to the door and opened it for his partner to pass through. Starsky slumped out of the office silently. The blonde cop glanced back at his boss and grinned.

“Don’t mind him Captain… you can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy.”

“Hutch?” Dobey called after his detective.

“Yeah?”

“You’re on your own… you know?”

“What’s the matter Captain? Afraid the big bad wolf might get us?”

“Just be careful.”

“We’re always careful.” He answered with a precocious wink.

“Right. That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

Hutch beamed a charming smile at his superior, semi-saluted and left the office.

*****

PART TWO

“Starsk?”

“<grunt>”

“Starsky? Come on… get up.” Hutch kicked his partner’s feet that stuck out of the tent. They looked like the Wicked Witch of the North after the house had fallen on her.

“Huh.”

“Time to go hunting.”

“Five more minutes.” Starsky grumbled.

“I’ve already given you an extra half hour… let’s go.”

Hutch had arisen at the break of dawn. He and Starsky had set up camp where the Fresno Sheriff’s Department had recommended. It had taken the twosome a day and a half to reach their final settlement. They were deep in the forest and hadn’t seen anyone since they were dropped off at the foot of the trail.

“Want some coffee?” Hutch offered.

“Absolutely.” Starsky said desperately.

He stumbled from the two-man tent rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. He was fully clothed boots and all.

“Man. I just about froze my tail off last night.”

“Ah come on Starsk. It’s good for you.” Hutch stated with pep. “Put hair on your chest.”

“I already have hair on my chest. What’s your excuse?”

“I’ve been looking over this map. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

“Oh good.” Starsky murmured sarcastically.

He stood hugging himself in an attempt to warm up.

As Starsky pumped his veins with caffeine, Hutch gathered up the supplies they’d need for their patrol that day. They’d been outfitted with scoped hunting rifles and just about everything the Coleman Company manufactured.

Hutch wore a hunting vest over a checked shirt looking every bit the part. Starsky on the other hand wore what he always wore – a weathered, leather jacket over a t-shirt and tattered blue jeans. He did have the presence of mind to wear his boots though instead of his usual sneakers.

“Man. My back is killing me. Did we really have to carry all this stuff up here?”

“Never know what you’re going to need. Haven’t you ever heard of ‘being prepared?’”

“Well I’m not a pack animal, Hutch. Do I look like a pack animal to you?”

“Are you asking me if you look like an ass?”

The look Starsky gave his partner was so droll it made Hutch smirk. He chortled at his remark.

“It’s not funny. I think I crushed a vertebra or something.”

“Starsky. You wouldn’t be standing there complaining if you crushed a vertebra.”

“Complaining? I’m not complaining.”

“Oh no? What would you call it?”

“Just making conversation.”

“Come on Starsk.” Hutch encouraged impatiently. “Get your stuff and let’s go.”

“I’m comin’, I’m comin’… keep your shirt on.”

Just as Starsky crouched to gather his kit, they were distracted by several shots in the distance. The denseness of the trees muffled the sound but it did not disguise the direction in which it came. Starsky was immediately awake and scrambled to catch up to Hutch who had taken off like a gazelle toward the noise. Several more shots rang out. The hunt had begun.

*****

PART THREE

Starsky and Hutch had not heard or seen anything for several hours. They’d been tracking what looked like no less than three and no more than five men. The going was tough. There was no clear path to follow. This was wilderness – as wild and unforgiving as it got and Starsky felt like a fish out of water. Hutch on the other hand seemed at home and comfortable in the untamed surroundings. The two traveled several yards apart trying to cover as much ground as possible.

“Hutch?” Starsky yelled abruptly across to his partner. His tone was that of alarm.

“Whatcha got?”

Hutch made his way over to Starsky who was knelt next to a freshly skinned bear. The scene was gruesome.

“Never thought I’d be investigating the murder of an animal.”

“That’s exactly what it is, Starsk.” Hutch said softly putting his hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“Poor thing.”

“Not pretty is it.”

“It sure isn’t.” Starsky stood, still looking down at the animal. “What should we do now?”

“Try and pick up the tracks again, I guess.”

“What do you mean ‘you guess’?”

“I’m making this up as I go, Starsk.”

“Terrific.”

“Let’s see if we can find their camp at least.”

The pair moved away from the scene trying to pick up the footprints the men had left. It didn’t take long before the cops were back on the poacher’s trail. It led them deeper and deeper into the forest and unknown territory. They moved stealthily through the foliage, their senses tweaked to every sound – every movement.

“I think Dobey’s wrong.”

“About what Starsk?”

“About the Fresno Police needing detectives. This is definitely forest ranger stuff. Smokey the Bear I ain’t.” Starsky huffed as he pushed aside a low pine tree branch.

“You’re doing fine.” Hutch chuckled.

Hutch couldn’t help but take in the beauty of the place. Everywhere he looked was lush with greenery. Rays of sunlight streamed through breaks in the treetops. And the sounds, so pure and sweet it was Edenlike. Thousands of birds each with a different song. Chipmunks and squirrels chastised the men as they passed underneath them. The air was still and close – eerily so.

Suddenly, a wisp of smoke came into view and Hutch immediately held his arm out to alert Starsky. Both men dove into a crouch and approached the camp. They crawled as close as possible to properly stake out the situation cradling their guns across their arms like soldiers in basic training.

As they got closer they could see three men sitting around a fire. One of them sat quietly eating beans right from the can. The other two worked on the skin they had just snatched. They were heavily armed and were dressed like loggers.

Hutch pointed at Starsky then made a whirling motion suggesting he circle around to the other side of the camp. They were too close to the poachers to even whisper. Hand signals were their only means of communication. Starsky began to move around and Hutch watched him until he was out of sight.

Hutch continued to watch the goings on for several minutes. Starsky had enough time to get to the other side and signal back by now. Where was he? Then he saw him. Hutch was shocked to see his partner being held up by two of the poachers. Starsky was out cold and it made Hutch’s heart skip then stop momentarily.

“Damn it.” He whispered to himself.

“Come out, come out where ever you are.” One of the men mocked.

After mulling over his limited options, Hutch surrendered. He had no choice. He had to get to Starsky. They’d find a way out in the end – they always did. Right now he had to give up and tend to his partner.

*****

PART FOUR

Hutch was escorted into the circle but never took his eyes off Starsky who hung on the shoulders of the two that had pistol-whipped him. He looked like laundry on a clothesline. A river of blood ran down the side of his face. Hutch’s pulse revved through his body. He tried to control his adrenalin, but the bulging vein in his forehead gave away his ire. His protective instinct was apparent and the poachers picked up on it. They would use it to their advantage.

“Who are you guys?” The ringleader asked calmly.

Hutch did not answer. The man then sauntered arrogantly over to Starsky and pulled his head up by his hair. He put a knife to Starsky’s throat. Hutch lunged at the man but was restrained by two of the poachers.

“You touch him one more time, I’ll kill you… so help me God.” Hutch hissed.

The men laughed mockingly which made the rage in Hutch boil. He was almost blinded with wrath.

“You’re in no position to make threats.” The man asked again pressing the blade into Starsky’s skin.

A trickle of blood ran from the hair thin slit he’d carved in his flesh.

“Who are you?” He asked again.

“Hutchinson.”

“And this one?”

“Starsky.” Hutch succumbed.

“What are you boys doing out here?”

“Hunting.” Hutch said through clenched teeth.

“But, nothing’s in season.”

The man’s statement left Hutch with no retort. He struggled to free himself, but the two men held him at bay.

“Now what are you doing here?” The ringleader asked again with patience. “Why are you following us?”

“We’re cops.”

“That’s the answer I was waiting for. You smell like cops. The city is written all over you. You stick of garbage and smog.” He took the knife away from Starsky and the two men who were holding him up let him crumple to the ground.

Again, Hutch struggled to get to his partner but could not break free. He watched the man approach him until they were nose-to-nose. Their eyes locked.

“Tomorrow you two are going to get a career change.”

“And what would that be?” Hutch spat.

“Prey.”

“You’re crazy.” Hutch scoffed boldly.

“You’re right.” The man agreed and smiled wickedly. “You boys better get some sleep tonight cause you are going to need all the help you can get.”

“My partner’s in no shape for games.”

“By morning he will be.” The man reassured. “And we could care less if you want to play or not. We’re tired of you people – trying to stop us from getting what is rightfully ours. This is our land and we can give or take what we want from it.”

With a nod of the head from the ringleader, his men gathered up Starsky and propped him against a tree in the seated position. They forced Hutch on the opposite side of his partner pulling their hands together and tying them tightly. A rope was wrapped around their necks as well.

The discomfort Hutch felt raised his blood pressure even more but he knew he had to control himself. He had to think clearly. He had to remain as calm and level-headed as possible so he could get them out of this… somehow.

*****

PART FIVE

The poacher’s camp was serene. Hutch estimated it to be three or four in the morning and he felt like he was freezing to death. He shivered uncontrollably. He and Starsky were not guarded by anyone. The job they did at tying up the cops was security enough for the men to sleep soundly.

Hutch had not slept a wink, trying periodically to rouse his partner from his knock on the noggin.

Hutch’s shoulder’s ached from being stretched unnaturally behind him around the trunk of the Sequoia Tree. It had to be four feet in diameter. His arms felt like they’d been pulled out of their sockets. His neck burned, and itched from the rope that had a stranglehold on him.

“Starsky?” Hutch whispered. “Staaarrrsssssky?” He hissed again trying to wake his friend from unconsciousness.

“Aaaa…ooh.” Starsky groaned.

“Starsk… you okay?”

“Ummm… no.” He grunted.

“Good.”

“What do you mean good… oh my head, what the hell?”

Starsky tried to raise his hand to rub his temple. It was only then that he realized the predicament he was in.

“We’re in a tight spot, Starsk.”

“Yeah… literally.”

“These guys plan to have some fun with us tomorrow.”

“Fun? What do you mean fun?”

“They want to use us as prey.”

“WHAT!”

“Shhhhhh.”

Starsky looked around the camp to make sure his outburst hadn’t stirred anyone. It hadn’t.

“What do you mean they want to use us as prey?”

“Just what I said.”

“I’m never going camping again, Hutch.”

“We’ll be okay Starsk.” Hutch assured. “We’ll just run back the way we came and down the trail to the main road.”

“Hutch. Thats two days away.”

“I know.”

“We can’t run for two days with five men chasing us.”

“Sure we can.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“That’s easy… we don’t have any choice.”

*****

PART SIX

Starsky and Hutch stood in front of their captors and watched them eat breakfast. Nothing was offered to them. Starsky’s stomach grumbled. One man had a rifle pointed squarely at them. There was no chance for escape – yet.

Both cops schemed as they prepared for what lay ahead. Hutch’s head swam with ideas of how to get out of this mess. Starsky’s head swam with fuzz. He still reeled from the blow he’d suffered the evening before. The pain didn’t stop him from exercising his survival instinct though.

“You boys ready?” The ringleader asked as he rose from a makeshift stool made from a tree stump.

“You’re actually going to go through with this?” Hutch asked with disgust.

“Well, the wildlife around here is starting to get scarce. Besides, it seems a hell of a lot more fun hunting something that can think. I need a challenge. You up for a challenge cop?”

Neither man answered the ringleader. His intent was ludicrous.

“You two better get a move on. You’ve already used up 5 minutes of your half hour head start.”

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other and bolted back toward the camp they’d set up the day before.

“I don’t believe this!” Starsky complained as he and Hutch tore through the forest. “Next time Dobey lends us out, I’m quitting.”

*****

PART SEVEN

Hours of running through dense forest finally made their legs give out from under them. They both collapsed against each other at the same time. They breathed so hard they couldn’t speak. Grime was smeared on their faces. Their clothes were torn and drenched with sweat. They ducked under a fallen tree to regain control of their respiration and escape the blazing sun.

“What… time… is it?” Starsky gasped after several moments of rest.

“What’s the matter… your three hundred dollar watch… not working?” Hutch puffed.

“Of course… it’s working. It’s a Yamamotto.”

“So… look at your own watch then.” Hutch sucked air in through his nose and exhaled out of his mouth like he was blowing out birthday candles.

“I’d like to but… I can’t raise my arm.”

“Oh… why didn’t you say so?”

Hutch winced and swallowed but he had no saliva to moisten his parched throat. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He grabbed Starsky’s forearm and glanced at his watch like he always did to get the time and sniffed.

“It’s eleven fifteen.”

“Shit.”

“What?”

“Only eleven fifteen?”

“Fraid so… Starsk.”

“I don’t think I can run… anymore, Hutch.”

“Let’s walk then. Can you walk?”

“Walk… yeah, I think I can walk.”

“Good.” Hutch resolved. “You’re head okay?”

“It feels like the Fourth of July – fireworks and cannons going off. Pretty colours too.”

“Oh… that’s nice.”

They took a few more puffs and spat out the slime that had congealed in their lungs.

“Hang in there partner.” Hutch asked accompanied by a sympathetic pat on Starsky’s shoulder. “You ready?”

“No, but I’ll go any way.”

The pair pushed themselves into a standing position and they both wobbled slightly. They hung onto each other, trying to steady themselves before continuing.

“Our camp isn’t too far, Starsk.”

“Oh… good.”

“I left my holster there.”

“Oh… you did?”

“Took the rifle instead.”

“Oh… good.” Starsky panted. “Why didn’t you mention that before?”

“I just thought of it.”

The twosome leaned into a slow jog. Both men peered over their shoulders to see if their pursuers were in sight. Nothing. They would be back at base camp within the hour – an hour that would seem like an eternity.

*****

PART EIGHT

Starsky and Hutch stumbled into their campsite just after noon. They fell onto all fours heaving with exhaustion. Starsky rolled into the fetal position and held his stomach hoping he wouldn’t vomit.

“I think I’m … gonna be sick.”

Hutch had just enough strength left to crawl to the tackle box and retrieve his handgun. He spit before he opened the tackle and took out the gun.

“I got it Starsk.”

He laboriously got to his feet and loaded the weapon. Then, the snap of a twig underfoot distracted him and before he could take cover he was struck below the right shoulder with a crossbow arrow. He yelped in agony and dropped to the ground. The gun went flying and landed with a thud in front of Starsky. He grabbed it and fired blindly in the direction of where the arrow had come. He emptied the gun of ammo and ran back to the tackle box for more bullets fully expecting to be shot upon. But the forest fell silent, except for Hutch’s groans. He sounded like a wounded animal. It made the hair on the back of Starsky’s neck stand up.

Starsky scrambled to reload the gun and when it was full again, he squared himself to fire into the forest. But there was nothing to shoot at. It seemed he’d made every bullet count the first time. Six bullets – five men.

“HUTCH!” Starsky yelled as he shuffled to the edge of camp like a soldier in combat. He moved cautiously looking ahead and then back at his downed partner. He had to secure the area before he could go to Hutch. With both hands firmly squeezing the gun, Starsky’s adrenaline surged.

“Hutch! You all right? HUTCH!”

Starsky discovered four men at the rim of their camp. All mortally wounded. His eyes darted from tree to tree searching for the fifth man – the ringleader. When he was satisfied the man had turn-tailed, Starsky ran back to his partner. He knelt over him and unbuttoned Hutch’s shirt so he could examine the wound.

Hutch was already in shock. He lay on his left side and stared at the dirt blankly. His breath, still heavy from the chase, clouded the dust like a bull sniffing the ground. His bright blue eyes had turned to navy. Blood oozed through the flannel of his shirt. His right arm seemed frozen and rested lifelessly across his torso.

Starsky gingerly placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and rolled him forward slightly. He had to see if the arrow had gone all the way through his back. It had. The movement made Hutch cry out.

“Shhh. It’s okay. You’re gonna be okay.” Starsky reassured; knowing full well Hutch was in serious trouble. He was loosing so much blood.
As he tended to his partner, Starsky periodically combed the area for the fifth man. Had he retreated, he wondered, or was he laying in wait? He remained on guard.

“Hutch? Can you hear me?”

The only response he got was a pathetic moan.

“I’m going to take it out. It went right through.”

Hutch was dazed and disoriented. Starsky had to be swift and exact. He went back to the tackle and got some wire cutters. He rummaged through his knapsack and pulled out a clean t-shirt. When he returned to Hutch, he positioned himself behind him so he could snap off the arrowhead. The pressure he had to use sent Hutch writhing. But, Starsky couldn’t stop. Finally the arrowhead broke off and he hopped over Hutch and faced him. He took a deep breath.

“Hold on. This will only take a second.” He wiped his hands on thighs. “Hold on buddy.”

Starsky tightly grasped the stem of the arrow with both hands. He placed his foot on Hutch’s shoulder and pulled sharply. The arrow slid out easier than he thought. Hutch let out a scream of torturous pain. Blood gushed from the wound and spilled onto Starsky’s jeans. He grabbed the t-shirt and stuffed into the hole in Hutch’s chest and leaned on it to try and stop the bleeding. Hutch took several gasps of air, stared coldly at his partner and lost consciousness.

“I’m sorry Hutch.” Starsky whispered. “I’m so sorry. It’ll be all right. I’ll get us home. I’ll get us out of this. Hang in there okay. You’re gonna be fine.”
But it was Starsky that was trying to convince himself. The only thing he knew for sure was that if he didn’t get help, Hutch could die.

He fell back onto his butt and leaned his forearms on his knees. He’d never had to do anything like that before and it made him squeamish. He let his head fall between his shoulders and took several deep breaths to regain his composure. He was exhausted and scared out of his wits – terrified that he didn’t have the strength to save Hutch. Afraid he couldn’t muster what he’d need.

After a moment of recuperation he made Hutch as comfortable as possible. He laid him out flat and placed some rolled up clothes under his head and a sleeping bag over him up to his chin. He cupped Hutch’s head and raised it to try and get him to drink.

Starsky immediately began work on a stretcher. He’d have to drag Hutch down to the rendezvous point. It was the only way. He checked his partner one more time and then set out to find the materials he needed all the while conscious of the fifth man – the ringleader. Where was he?

*****

PART NINE

His eyes felt like they were on fire. The heat seemed to weld his eyelids shut. He struggled to open them, but he couldn’t. It didn’t feel like he was lying on the ground but rather suspended above it. Fever surged through his body making it quack. His insides erupted like a volcano while the air around him made him shiver with cold.

A herd of wild mustangs charged him and he waved his arms frantically to disperse them to prevent himself from being trampled. He yelled but the horses vanished into thin air. When he turned he found himself on the roof of a tall building. Hundreds of stories high it seemed. He lost his balance and fell. Again, Hutch lashed out to stop himself from hitting the ground. Then he sprouted wings and soared through cotton-like clouds. The feeling was exhilarating until a wall of fire engulfed him.

Starsky had been towing his partner for several hours. The only other thing he carried was water and Hutch’s gun. He had tightly wrapped Hutch onto the gurney he’d constructed. It worked well. Hutch’s supplies that Starsky thought were excessive proved invaluable. He impressed himself with his ingenuity and fortitude.

As he continued to walk, he couldn’t help be preoccupied with the ringleader. Were they being followed? Were they being set-up for a surprise attack? Starsky stayed alert to the prospect.

It was getting dark and he knew he’d have to stop soon. Hutch yammered incoherently – infection had set in. Starsky found a place to settle for the night. He was too tired to go any further anyway. He pulled the stretcher into a sheltered area under the trees and unwrapped his partner.

“How you doin buddy?” He asked knowing full well that Hutch was in a world of his own.

“Horses…” Hutch muttered deliriously. “I’m falling… I’M FALLING… Starsk!”

“I’ve got you. It’s okay. Let’s take a look at that shoulder.” He said sympathetic.

The wound was nasty. Blood still escaped from it. The t-shirt that Starsky dressed it with was saturated and sticky with clotted blood. It looked like molasses. When Starsky removed it, Hutch sucked air through his gritted teeth making a hissing sound.

“Sorry Hutch. I gotta change the bandage.”

Hutch’s shoulder, neck and chest had turned a silvery shade of purple. The area around the wound itself was swollen and tender. Hutch winced as Starsky tried to clean it.

“Starsk… Starsk… I don’t feel good.” Hutch whimpered through the fog of fever. “Starsky?”

“Shhhh. I’m here. I’m here, Hutch.”

“What… what happened?”

“Cowboys and Indians buddy.”

“What… what?”

“Arrow. You got shot with an arrow. Be quiet now. Go back to sleep okay.”

“Starsk…” Hutch’s teeth chattered as he spoke.

“Yeah buddy?”

“I’m cold… I’m so cold.”

“Shhh. Easy now. Try to go to sleep. I’m here. Don’t worry. You’re gonna to be fine. I promise.”

Starsky wiped Hutch’s forehead of perspiration as he tried to sooth him. It would be four or five hours before he could take Hutch the rest of the way. Starsky just hoped his comrade could hold on.

He’d do everything in his power to save him. He couldn’t imagine life without Hutch. It was at times like this that brought their friendship into focus. Their relationship was tight and was the center of each man’s life. Right now life is all Starsky could think of. Saving Hutch’s life would also save his own.

*****

PART TEN

The early morning sun streamed through to the forest floor like warm milk. It drenched Starsky with a pastel glow. When he opened his eyes he found himself curled in a ball. His back rested against Hutch’s. It took an instant for him to orient himself. He flipped over quickly to check on his partner. He never meant to fall asleep. He wanted to keep an eye on him through the night.

Hutch threw his head from side to side, his face the picture of a man on the edge of death. It was soured and his complexion was as gray as putty. His breathing was short and interrupted. His hair was wet with sweat. He held his right arm tightly against his abdomen. Starsky knelt over him and shook his head trying desperately to wake himself.

“You’re temperature is up.” He said.

As he reached for the water bottle he was tackled from behind. The ringleader had staged his attack. Taken totally off guard, Starsky’s heart sped into top speed. The two men landed right on top of Hutch and the blonde cop yelped in agony. They rolled over several times, each man trying to get the upper hand. They eventually got to their feet and began a flurry of punches to the stomach and face. Neither man seemed to over power the other.
Starsky was finally able to pull the gun from the shoulder holster and stop the onslaught of upper cuts and jabs.

“HOLD IT!” He shouted. “Hold it right there!”

The ringleader stopped his rush and slowly raised his arms in surrender.

“So, you’ve won this round.” The man sneered. “Next time you won’t be so lucky.”

“There won’t be a next time you crazy bastard.”

“And what makes you so sure about that?”

“Because I’m going to kill you.” Starsky threatened. He was angry enough to. “Look what you did to my partner!”

“Then go ahead. You don’t have the guts.”

The dare incensed the detective but his conscience wouldn’t allow him to fire. He just couldn’t kill anyone in cold blood. He’d only felt wrath like that once before when he’d been terrorized by a criminal named Prudholm. He didn’t like it – that feeling of uncontrollable fury. Finally his cool head prevailed and he pushed the ringleader over to a tree and tied him up with the rope he’d used to strap down Hutch.

Now he could fully focus on getting his partner some medical attention. He secured Hutch on the stretcher once again, grabbed it and began his trek back to civilization.

“HEY! You can’t leave me here!” the ringleader protested.

“You won’t be alone for long.” Starsky yelled back.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sure there are a few bears or mountain lions around to keep you company. They’ve got some unfinished business with you.” Starsky chastised as he moved away from his camp, leaving the ringleader behind to fend for himself.

*****

EPILOGUE

When Hutch finally opened his eyes several days later, all he could see was white. Brilliant and blinding. He thought he was in heaven. He squinted and blinked his eyes rapidly trying desperately to bring something into focus.

His arm felt like lead. He reached over to touch it to make sure it was still there. Then the room slowly came into view. A hospital room. It reeked of antiseptic and was as warm as toast. The sheets he laid on were starchy and spotlessly clean and made a crunching sound when he tried to move. But, moving turned out to be more difficult than he expected and he let out a muffled grunt.

“You’re awake.”

Starsky came into frame peripherally and what a welcome sight he was. Hutch looked up at his partner’s hazy figure and smiled briefly. But, it was only for show.

“How you feelin’?” Starsky asked brightly.

“Terrible.”

“Thats okay. You look terrible too.”

Hutch did not respond to his partner’s poor attempt at making him feel better. He closed his eyes again because it stopped the room from spinning.

“What happened?” Hutch asked – his voice like gravel – his eyes still closed.

“Those Neanderthals shot you with a cross bow arrow.”

“Just one?”

“Yeah.” Starsky chuckled. “Why, does it feel like more?”

“It feels like I’ve been hit by a freight train.”

“Well, you might as well have been. It probably would have caused less damage.”

“Am I damaged?” Hutch asked as if he didn’t care.

“Well, not any more.”

“Could have fooled me.” The blonde cop opened his eyes again and this time things were a bit clearer. “Where am I? How did I get here?”

“You’re in Fresno Memorial Hospital and you got here via good old Starsky power.”

“What did you do carry me all the way?”

“Nope. I dragged ya.” Starsky pulled a chair over to the edge of Hutch’s bed and twirled so he could sit on it backwards. He rested his forearms on the back of the chair and then placed his chin atop his wrist.

“Oh. So that’s why I feel like this.”

“Well, I didn’t drag you by your hair or anything. I made a stretcher.”

“You did?”

“Yep.”

“Good for you.” Hutch sounded unenthusiastically proud.

“Hutch?”

“Um?”

“I don’t want to go camping anymore, okay. I hate camping.” Starsky implored. “As a matter of fact I never want to see trees and water and water and trees ever again. Okay Hutch? Please? If Dobey sends us on an assignment like this again, can we just move to Bolivia and rob banks like we always planned? Please Hutch? Please don’t put me through this again.”

“You think robbing banks in Bolivia would be safer?”

“Yes. I do.”

“You know what partner?”

“What.”

“You’re right.”

***The End***

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