The Road Less Travelled (by Barbara)

Summary:    Hutch reveals a worrisome secret to Starsky that takes them on a road trip they will never forget.
Category:  Starsky & Hutch
Genre:  Crime
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  8567


 

“I can’t find him!”

Starsky leaned his hands against Captain Dobey’s desk with intense desperation. He had been in this predicament twice before. It was 5 years ago that Hutch had been kidnapped and forcibly shot up with heroin. It was an experience neither detective wanted to repeat. It was a difficult period they overcame together and it haunted them both to this day. And, it was 2 years ago that Hutch was forced off the road and crashed his car into a canyon. It took Starsky several days to find him.
Now, history seemed to be repeating itself. Hutch was nowhere to be found. When Starsky went to pick up his partner the previous morning, Hutch was not on the curb to greet him.

Slightly miffed, Starsky ran up to Hutch’s apartment and knocked. There was no answer. He plucked the key from atop the doorframe and entered Hutch’s apartment only to find it vacant. There was nothing out of place. Remnants of the pizza they ordered the night before sat on the coffee table. The obligatory single slice left to shrivel in the box. The empty beer bottles stood there too; six in total.

Starsky glanced over at Hutch’s bed. It was made. The bathroom had recent signs of a shower and shave. Curiously, his gun and holster hung over the room divider. This was a very large red flag.

“Where the heck is he?” Starsky mumbled to himself as he wandered out to the terrace then back through the kitchen. The investigation continued into the living area and a root through some papers on Hutch’s desk. He then took a seat on the piano stool where he swiveled for a few moments to assess the situation.

There was no need to suspect girl trouble, he pondered, recalling the unfortunate episode his partner experienced with the obsessed and violent Diana. Hutch had not mentioned a new girl friend and had just broken off a relationship the week before. As far as Starsky knew, Hutch was in between ladies. Not to mention, Hutch had chased Starsky out of his apartment around 10pm last night so he could go to bed. So, between then and now, he couldn’t have had a rendezvous.

Nope. Something wasn’t adding up. Something was wrong: very wrong.  Starsky left the apartment and returned to his car then spent the rest of the day roaming Bay City on his usual rounds. But, this time it was Hutch he was hunting. His stomach churned with anxiety. He had that feeling one has before going into surgery. He wasn’t quite ready to sound the alarm to Dobey yet but he was getting close. There may still be a logical explanation as to where his partner was. But, that likelihood was becoming more and more dubious as each hour ticked by.

Starsky stopped several times at phone booths throughout the day to call Hutch’s place. Nothing. Even Huggy hadn’t heard from him. He too was concerned. So, now 36 hours had past and it was time to get out an APB on his partner – again. And, there stood Starsky, like déjà vu, across the desk from his boss.

“You’ve covered all the bases?” Dobey asked Starsky directly.

“Yes.” He replied urgently. “I’ve looked everywhere.”

“What about Huggy Bear?”

“What about him?”

“HAS HE SEEN HUTCHINSON?!”

“No.” Starsky stressed.

“You sure he isn’t shacked up?”

“I’m sure. I left him late Monday night. Everything was fine. We had some pizza and beer. Watched the game. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.” Starsky implored.

Just as Captain Dobey reached for the phone to place the alert the door to his office opened.

“Good morning.” Hutch said pleasantly.

He entered the room casually, walked past his colleagues and sat in his usual chair for their morning briefing as if there was nothing amiss. Both Starsky and Dobey looked dumbfounded. The Captain held the phone receiver in mid-air and Starsky’s face scrunched with puzzled embarrassment.

“Where da hell have you been?” He over enunciated without moving a muscle or making eye contact with his partner.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been looking for you for almost 36 hours and 12 minutes.” Starsky replied as he glanced at his watch.

“What? Why?”

“Why? I went to pick you up yesterday morning and you were nowhere to be found. I went up to your apartment. You weren’t there. I called all day and all last night! Where have you been Hutch? I was worried.”

“Worried?”

“Yesss.” Starsky hissed. “Worried.”

“Well… I… hmmmm, I told you… I was going to take yesterday off.” Hutch stumbled.

“You never mentioned anything to me about taking the day off.”

“Me either.” Dobey added with a suspicious scowl.

“I had stuff to do.”

“Stuff?”

“Can we just drop it and get to work?” Hutch stated obviously trying to change the subject. “I’m here now. Everything’s fine.”’

He sounded anything but convincing.

Both Starsky and Dobey were left speechless. They stared at each other, their faces etched with confusion. Hutch seemed oblivious to their upset. Finally, after an extended sigh, Starsky shrugged, raised his arms then let them fall to his thighs making a loud slapping noise. He plopped in his seat like a scolded teenager and the meeting began. Their day was laid out, and pending files passed over for review.

“Okay.” Hutch said looking over at his partner after closing the cardboard folder. “You ready?”

“Ready? Ready for what?”

“To hit the streets Gordo. What else.”

With that utterance, Hutch rose from the chair and headed for the door leaving Starsky sitting there still perplexed.

“Come on.” Hutch encouraged as he grabbed the doorknob. “Let’s go.”

Starsky gave Dobey one last look of distain as he pushed himself into standing. He followed his partner out of the office, down the hall and to the garage where the Torino awaited. Hutch led the way. Starsky followed several steps behind burning an annoyed glare into the back of his partner’s neck. No words past between them. They got in the car and Starsky made his usual speedy exit out of the building and onto the streets.

*****

“So.” Starsky quarried as he drove. “Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Hutch. You never said anything about taking the day off yesterday. I’m not senile or deaf. Where were you? Why didn’t you tell me you were taking the day off?”

“What are you, my mother?” Hutch sounded annoyed. “I had things to do.”

“Things to do.”

“Yes.”

“What kinda things?”

“Ah Starsky. Let it go, will ya. Personal things.” Hutch said wearily. He rubbed his brow with his thumb and forefinger. “We don’t have to spend every waking moment together do we? You don’t have to know everything about my life. I don’t answer to you. Now, I needed some time so I took it. I don’t have to clear everything with you.”

Hutch’s statement made Starsky’s eyes water. He DID know everything about Hutch’s life. At least he thought he did until now. His relationship with Hutch transcended all. Hutch was THE most important person in his life. They were more than friends… more than brothers. When something happened to one it happened to the other – good or bad. He tried to contain his hurtful ire before he replied. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat.

“Well. Actually…” Starsky began. “Yes. You do. What could have possibly happened between 10 o’clock Monday night and 7:30 Tuesday morning?”

Hutch just stared straight ahead. The glare of the sun bouncing off the hood of the car made him squint to the point of blindness. He reached for his sunglasses and slid them on subliminally trying to shield off his partner’s interrogation.

“I was really worried.” Starsky continued. “All I kept thinking about was Forrest and Monk. Not mention The Spook and Diana. You’d think with our history you’d have the common courtesy to check in with me. I thought someone had hurt you. I thought you were in trouble. When I left your place Monday night you could have told me not to pick you up in the morning. Would that have been so hard? Huh? Now what’s going on? Why the covert operation?”

“What can I tell you Starsk. I’m sorry okay. I thought I told you.”

“Well you didn’t.” Starsky huffed with frustration.

“Sorry.”

The rest of the day was filled with uncomfortable gaps of silence. What conversations they did have were short and curt. It was not their usual easy banter. Starsky was bothered for sure. He knew Hutch was hiding something. He wanted to be mad, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. Was this it? Had their partnership and friendship run it’s coarse? Had Hutch moved on? Starsky had no idea. But, he was bound and determined to get to the bottom of it whether Hutch wanted him to or not.

*****

“Well that was an easy shift for a change.” Hutch muttered in the passenger seat of the Torino. He flipped casually through his notebook before throwing it in the glove compartment for the day. It was 7:10 pm.

“Yeah.” Was all Starsky could muster.

“Drive me home wouldja. I’m tired. We’ll fill out the paperwork in the morning.”

“Don’t you want to grab some dinner?”

“Nope.” Hutch said lazily then yawned widely. “Not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten all day. You’re not on one of those crazy fasts again are you?”

“Nah. I just want to go home and go to bed.”

“Do you feel okay?” Starsky probed for some clues as to why Hutch was so aloof. “Are you sick?”

“No. I’m just wiped that’s all.” Hutch sounded exasperated. “Will you lay off! For Christ’s sake Starsky! Just let it be. Enough with the third degree.”

“Wiped? You had the whole day off yesterday! How could you possibly be wiped? Did you run a marathon or something? Cut the crap, Hutch. No, no… there is something wrong!” Starsky waved his finger in the air. “Now talk. Where you were yesterday?”

Hutch breathed in a huge lung full of air before letting it out through his nose. His head dropped between his shoulders and he paused momentarily before he raised his head again to finally make eye contact with Starsky. He knew he would never be able to keep any secret from him. Why did he even try?

“Okay.” He surrendered.

“Okay?” Starsky said hopefully.

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Do you really want to know where I was yesterday?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Okay. If you must know… I was at the hospital.”

“The hospital? Why?”

“I had a huh, well… I had to have a procedure.”

“What? What kind of procedure?”

“Well, if you must know… I had to have a, well – I had to have a biopsy.”

“A BIOPSY!? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.” Hutch said resignedly. “I guess I was embarrassed.”

“Embarrassed? Why would you be embarrassed about a biopsy?”

“Well. The tumor is down there Starsky. I was just embarrassed that’s all!”

“Down there?”

“Oh man. Do I have to spell it out for you?”

“Oh.” Starsky replied quietly. “No. I guess not.”

“So there. Now you know. Happy?” Hutch pushed a resolute smirk knowing full well what he had just said was idiotic.

“NO! I’m not in the least bit happy that you’ve had a biopsy. Or, that you couldn’t tell me about it. How long have you been keeping this a secret? When did you find it? I would have told you if it were me. I could have driven you to the hospital Hutch. I could have been there for you.”

“Well. I guess you’re a better man than me.”

“That’s not fair. Why would you say that?”

“I’m sorry Starsk.” Hutch sighed. “I guess I just don’t know what to say or what to do.”

“Well, what did the doc say?” Starsky asked blinking rapidly trying to absorb the shock. He felt like he’d been kicked in the gut.

“We have to wait for the results to come back.”

“Oh.”

“I’m scared Starsk.” Hutch abruptly confessed. “You know I look back on all the shit we’ve gone through over the past 7 years and nothing has scared me more than this has.”

Starsky could do nothing but stare out the windshield and drive. He struggled to find the words.

“You’ll be okay.”

“I have a bad feeling I won’t be.”

“When do the results come back?”

“Doc said Monday at the earliest.”

A hesitation hung in the air like a soupy smog.

“How about some Chinese?” Starsky suggested trying to sidetrack the conversation. “Come on. I’m hungry. Let’s grab some food and go back to your place.”

“Yeah. Okay. Why not.” Hutch agreed with a forced grin. “You only live once right.”

Starsky looked over at his partner. He wanted to reassure him that things would work out. He could always do that before, no matter what. But, not this time. This was out of their control. They drove the rest of the way home in dazed silence.

*****

The empty Chinese food containers littered the top of Hutch’s kitchen table. The sweet scent of sweet and sour ribs and soy filled the air. It turned out Hutch was hungry after all. He had no trouble downing 2 plates full of food and washing it down with several beers. Starsky had little appetite. He had less time to absorb the revelation that the most important person in his life may be facing mortality. It terrified him. He didn’t want to even think about a life without Hutch. That was inconceivable. But, he would be there for him. Starsky would see him through all of it. That was a given.

“So. How long have you known.” Starsky began. “I mean… when did you discover it.”

“It.” Hutch replied as he picked up a stray chow mien noodle off his plate and popped it in his mouth. “Is that what we are going to call it… it?”

“Well. We could give it a name like Mork or Mindy.” Starsky chuckled.

“Mork works.” Hutch said dryly. “A few weeks ago. I found it… huh, I found Mork a few weeks ago.”

“Hutch. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’m not really sure. I think I was in denial.”

“Aah Hutch.”

“You know what Starsk? I can’t figure it out. I mean. I’m a young guy. I take care of my self. I eat right and exercise. Why me?”

“Coulda easily been me. Could easily be anyone. Sometimes it’s genes, sometimes it’s just plain bad luck.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right.” Hutch replied as he scratched at the label on his beer bottle. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.

All my healthy eating and jogging every morning. I thought I was doing all the right things. It’s all meant nothing.”

“Whatdaya mean, nothing? You may have cancer, but you’re still a handsome devil in prime physical condition. At least that’s what you keep tellin me.” Starsky joked trying to lighten the mood.

“Cancer.” Hutch lamented. “I’ve never really said the word.”

“In all likelihood it’s nothing. Most of these things are just that right… nothing.”

“That’s what the doctor said.”

“Well there, ya see. That’s something… isn’t it?”

“I suppose.” Hutch shrugged.

Hutch collected the plates and beer bottles and took them into the kitchen and began to clean up. Starsky could hear him sniff a few tears away. It sent a wave of fright right through his core. It was heart breaking seeing his best friend struggle.

“Hey listen.” Starsky said brightly. “Let’s take some time off. We’ve got vacation time coming. Let’s go somewhere. Have some fun. What do you say?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” Hutch replied as he scraped the plates into the garbage covertly trying to hide his tears. “I’m not really in the mood for fun.”

“What are we going to do? Sit around here for the next week and worry? Come on. You name it. Road trip? Maybe hop on a plane to Vegas.”

Hutch turned to face his friend and wiped his nose with his sleeve. He tried to regain his composure. He wanted to just sob but took a deep breath instead.

“You know what Starsk. Yeah. Let’s do it. Why not? I’d love to get away from all of this for awhile.”

“Great! Where do you want to go?”

“You are going to laugh if I tell you.”

“No I won’t. I won’t laugh.”

“Well, since I was a little kid in Duluth, I always wanted to see the Grand Canyon.”

Starsky looked at his partner with amazement. “ME TOO!”

“I didn’t know you grew up in Duluth.”

“The Grand Canyon, dummy.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll call Dobey at home and let him know.”

“Don’t tell him about the biopsy, Starsk.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t want him to know that’s all.”

“He’s gotta know Hutch.”

“He doesn’t have to know anything until we know something.” Hutch explained. “Just tell him we’re taking a few days off.”

“Okay. Okay.” Starsky said calmly. “Don’t get your knickers in knot.”

“I’m just saying that there’s no need for anyone to know about this. Not even Huggy.”

“My lips are sealed.”

Hutch seemed satisfied with that. He turned back to the sink and continued to wash up.

*****

“You ready?” Starsky asked as he poked his head around the door into Hutch’s apartment. It was 8:30 Thursday morning.

“Yeah. I’m just trying to find my keys.” Hutch replied as he patted his body down.

“What do you need your keys for? I’m driving.”

“I know. I just want them that’s all.”

“Okay. Whatever. Come on, I’m all packed up. Let’s hit the road. I want to make Barstow by lunchtime.”

“Okay. I’m comin, I’m comin.”

Hutch tossed his duffle bag over his shoulder as he continued to search for his allusive keys. Without success, he shook his head and followed Starsky down the stairs to the street where the faithful Torino sat gleaming in the morning sun. The duo slid into the front seat like they had a thousand times before.

“Grand Canyon… here we come.” Starsky announced with gusto.

Hutch just smiled at his partner’s enthusiasm. The fact was he was happy to make an escape away from his worries. Hopefully, this would be the ticket to get him through the next week. He was feeling better this morning as mornings often do. And, he was looking forward to finally seeing the Grand Canyon. Starsky put the car in gear and took off down the road with his usual dragster flair.

“Hmm, Starsky… you’re heading for the ocean. The Grand Canyon is the other way.”

“I know.” Starsky said. “I just have to make one stop.”

“Oh yeah? Stop for what?”

“We gotta pick up some road trip food.”

“Road trip food?” Hutch quarried with slight apprehension. “This I gotta hear.”

“You know. Road trip food.” Starsky expounded. “Soda, candy and chips.”

“OH MY!” Hutch replied in his best Wizard of Oz voice. “And, I’m the one with cancer?”

“You don’t have cancer. It’s nothing. I know it. You’re gonna be fine.”

“Well the suspense is killing me.”

“Bad choice of words there, partner.” Starsky looked over at Hutch. “Listen. Let’s forget about all that for now. Just for a few days. Let’s just have a good time alright?”

“Yeah. You’re right. Hey. Thanks for doing this.”

“This is for me too. I really DO want to see the Grand Canyon. Always have.”

Starsky pulled into the local convenience store and got out of the car. He sprang out of the driver’s seat and circled behind the car stopping to lean against the passenger side window.

“What do you want?”

“You know I don’t eat that kinda stuff Starsk.”

“Ah come on. You do so. You just had Chinese food for dinner last night. I know you want something. Now what do you want? I’ll get you anything your heart’s delight.”

“My heart’s delight huh?”

“Yep. What did you used to eat as a kid back in Duluth? You couldn’t have always been a health nut. There’s no such thing as a ten year old wheat germ, sea kelp freak.”

“Well, okay then. I’ll have a cream soda, salt and vinegar chips and some M&Ms.”

“Dats da spirit! I’ll be right back.”

“PEANUT M&M’S!!!” Hutch yelled out the window as Starsky swaggered toward the shop.

The curly-haired cop waved his hand in the air to confirm the order.

*****

So far, so good. The pair made their way out of the city and were soon entering the desert. Hutch had downed his soda and chips already and enjoyed them thoroughly. The M&Ms he’d save for later. He couldn’t remember the last time he indulged in his favorite childhood treats. It sure took him back to his youth in Minnesota.

The windows were wide open and so was the road ahead. Thursday mornings were not prone to gridlock. As a matter of fact, they encountered very few cars coming or going on the highway.

Hutch took in the beauty of the surroundings. With the thought of a gloomy diagnosis still swirling in his brain like a cluster of gnats, everything seemed more vibrant now, especially out here. Hutch closed his eyes and let the wind massage his face. It felt good. The hot breeze whipped his hair wildly making it look like a lit torch.

“I scoped out a route last night.” Starsky began. “It’s a off the beaten path, but it’ll be nicer than just taking the highway all the way. Got water in the trunk just in case. I read somewhere that if you going to drive in the desert you should always bring water.”

“Fine idea Ollie. I always did like the road less travelled.”

“It might take us a bit longer. I’ll try and get us to Barstow for an early dinner and then be in Needles for a late night snack.

Then we’ll get to Williams for breakfast.” Starsky announced proudly.

“Why do all your plans revolve around food?”

“I don’t know.”

“There’s no rush Starsky. Let’s just take our time and enjoy the scenery. I mean, look around, isn’t it beautiful?”

“All I see is dust and rocks.”

“Look at the colors.”

“Beige is not a color Hutch.”

“It’s not beige. There’s purple and orange and turquoise.”

“OH MY!” Starsky mocked.

“Very funny.” Hutch jabbed back. “I’m loving this. This was a great idea, Starsk.”

“I do have’em every now and then.”

“Yes you do, my friend. Yes you do.”

Starsky smiled broadly as he glanced at his partner and then winced.

“What’sa matter?” Hutch inquired.

“I need the little boy’s room.”

“Already?” Hutch sounded woeful. “We’ve only been on the road for over an hour. You have the bladder of a 2 year old, you know that?”

“Gonna need gas too.”

“I really don’t know what you see in this car. It burns more fuel than a Sherman Tank.”

“At least it isn’t beige.”

“My car is not beige Starsky… it’s Metallic Ecru.”

“Ecccrrruoooo?”

“Yeah. Okay, okay… it’s beige.”

*****

It took several more miles before they found a gas station. They really were off the beaten path. They hadn’t seen a soul since they exited the main road. Starsky pulled in and parked beside the single pump. A waft of dust engulfed the car turning it from its shiny candy apple red to a dull maroon.

“I’ll be right back.” Starsky said. “Fill her up will ya.”

“Certainly.” Hutch replied as he exited the car.

He stretched dramatically before popping the gas cap and pulling the nozzle from its cradle. As he filled the tank he scanned the landscape. The only life out here was the odd roadrunner and very large spider that crawled over Hutch’s boot. He kicked it away and cringed.

When he had recovered from the critter’s rude intrusion, melancholia began to creep into his consciousness. The positivity he felt that morning was quickly waning. He wanted to stay positive but just couldn’t shake the nervousness he had about the results of his biopsy. Now even the most mundane tasks seemed important. Even pumping gas became an event.  Would this be the last time he ever pumped gas? Hutch shook his head and sniffed, feeling a bit silly.

“Don’t be such a wimp, Hutchinson.” He scolded himself. “Keep it together.”

But, there was no doubt about it. Fear was taking hold. He had always been able to keep it at bay before. In his line of work, he had to. But, this was different. Not only did he fear the diagnosis itself, but the surgery and treatment. He had withstood so much pain both physically and emotionally since becoming a cop. Why was this so terrifying?

Hutch took a deep breath to try and settle him. He finished filling the tank, took one last look around and returned to the passenger seat of the car. It was stiflingly hot so he left the door open and sat half way in and half way out waiting for Starsky. He sat there for quite a while before he finally lost patience.

“What is he doing in there?” He muttered.

As soon as the words left his lips, Starsky appeared from around the tiny building where the washrooms were. He carried a well-worn magazine.

“About time.” Hutch sniffed. “What have I told you about stealing magazines.”

“I didn’t steal it.”

“Oh no?”

“No. I’m just borrowing it.”

“This is the strangest library I’ve ever seen.”

“Did you pay the guy?” Starsky asked as he tucked in his shirt while blatantly ignoring his buddy.

“No.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, go pay’em.”

“Why do I have to pay?”

“You filled the tank.” Starsky winked as he slid into the driver seat and shook open the magazine.

“Naturally.”

Hutch laboriously got out of the car and made his way to the tiny shack that held the cash register. The door was wide open and Hutch stepped inside.

“Hello? Anybody here?”

The place appeared to be empty. It smelled of old oil and flies buzzed about. The heat was smothering. Hutch casually glanced over the desk and was immediately taken aback. There on the floor was a young man. He was covered in blood. The cash register was pulled open and emptied out.  Hutch raced around the desk to give aid, but there was nothing he could do. The man was already dead. He crouched over him and placed his hand compassionately on the body’s shoulder.

“Damn.” Hutch sighed.

The screen door squeaked open as Starsky entered hoping he could buy a candy bar or a coke. He didn’t see his partner.

“Hutch? You in here?”

When Hutch rose from behind the counter Starsky stopped in his tracks. He could see something was wrong.

“What’s the matter? You okay?”

“It seems we just can’t escape it. Not even for one… single… day.” Hutch scoffed.

“What you talking about?”

Hutch just pointed to the floor as Starsky moved around the counter to see what he was talking about.

“Oh man.”

“Body’s still warm.” Hutch said. “He’s been dead for less than an hour.”

“Robbery huh?”

“Looks like it.”

The detectives couldn’t help themselves but to start the investigation. That was their vocation. Find the scum of the earth and bring them to justice. This situation was no different and they both scoured the place in fine detail while gathering evidence.
“Let’s call the Sheriff, huh? Get this poor guy to the morgue.” Hutch suggested.

But, before Starsky could concur, a teenaged girl confronted them. She held a shotgun bigger than she was and cocked the trigger. She pointed it directly at them.

“Put your hands up.” She ordered.

“Okay. Okay.” Hutch said as he obeyed her order. Starsky did the same. “Take it easy.”

“What did you do?”

“Who us?”

“Well who exactly do you think I’m talking to?” She tried to sound brave.

“We didn’t do this.” Starsky explained. “We just stopped for gas. We found him like this.”

“We’re policemen.” Hutch said as he slowly reached into his back pocket for his badge.

She allowed him to.

“We’re detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. Bay City PD.”

She lowered the gun and the partners took an easy breath.

“Do you know this man?” Starsky asked.

“He’s my brother.” She replied, her voice quivering as she began to realize the severity of the situation.

“I’m very sorry.” Hutch said.

“I heard the shots. I was out back doing some laundry. I ran to get my gun.”

She looked down at her brother.

“Is he dead?”

“Yes.” Hutch answered. He voice was a soft as rabbit fur. “I’m afraid he is.”

She started to cry and ran over to her brother and collapsed onto the body.

“CHRIS!” She wailed. “CHRISTOPHER!”

Hutch knelt down to try and give comfort.

*****

The Sherriff took quite a while to get to the scene. They were a long way from the nearest town. During that time, the detectives continued their investigation finding that there was only one perpetrator – probably male. A drifter or professional, they weren’t sure. What they did know was that whoever did this, was either mentally disturbed or just plain evil.

They did their best to comfort the young girl, Danielle. Both Starsky and Hutch had experience dealing with the bereaved at a murder scene but this one was particularly heart wrenching. Danielle told them that her parents passed away just a few years apart, both from cancer. That tale sent waves of anxiety through Hutch’s being. It made his belly flutter. She said she and her brother decided to stay and keep the family business going. It was all they knew and all they had.

The cops sat on a bench outside the station with the girl sandwiched in between them. Danielle rested her head on Hutch’s shoulder. She took to him immediately. There was something about the blonde cop that made her feel secure. He too, felt something special for the girl. He just had this overwhelming urge to protect her. He remembered having the same feeling for Molly – another young girl that needed help after she was left alone after the murder of her father.

When the Sherriff finally arrived it was close to 4pm. Starsky and Hutch expected to see an older, gray-hair man with a couple of day’s worth of stubble. Instead, a young guy showed up in a spotless uniform and shiny silver star on his chest. His cowboy hat was whiter than the clouds that hung lazily above. He couldn’t have been more that 25 years old. This dude gave Hutch a run for his “Mr. America” money. So much for stereotypes. He exited his police cruiser and approached them with an outstretched hand.

“Afternoon.” He said with a voice deeper than Barry White’s. It was unexpected coming from such a young person. “I’m Sherriff Roberts. You can call me Shane.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Starsky greeted as he rose from the bench. Hutch and Danielle stayed put. “Got a bit of a situation here. This is the victim’s sister…”

“Danielle.” The Sheriff replied. “Yes. I know. Kind of a small community we got here. Everybody knows everybody.”

The duo gave their statements to the officer and offered more help if needed. The Sherriff declined and sent them on their way. They would be back if they were called as witnesses in a trial if ever there was one.

As Hutch walked slowly toward the Torino, he placed his arm around the young girl. She would be all alone out here now.

“Are you going to be okay?” He asked with sincere empathy.

“I will be.” She replied between gulps of tears. “I’m sorry I tried to shoot you.”

“Hey. You had no way of knowing. It was pretty scary back there.”

She tried to smile but was too overcome by grief.

“Do you have any family… anywhere?”

“No. I just had Christopher.”

“Well, the Sheriff will take care of you. He’ll make any arrangements you want.”

“Alright.” She replied vacantly. “Thanks Hutch.”

“Listen. I’m going to give you my card and if you need anything, anything at all you just call me, okay?”

“Okay, I will.”

Hutch gave her one more reassuring hug and sullenly returned to the Torino. He felt terrible leaving her. He waited for Starsky who was still wrapping things up with the Sherriff. The conversation broke and he too returned to the car but not before giving Danielle one last word of encouragement. He jogged to the car and got behind the wheel.

“Poor kid.” He tisked. “What’s she gonna do out here all by herself?”

“Not sure. I gave her my card.”

“Dats nice… she’ll be okay.” Starsky paused before starting the engine. “You ready then?”

“Yep. Nothing else we can do.” Hutch shrugged. “Let’s get out of here.”

*****

The partners drove in silence for many miles. After that disturbing incident, they needed time to collect their thoughts.

“Well. We should be in Needles for supper.” Starsky piped up. “How you doin’?”

“Who me? I’m fine.”

“Still thinkin’ about Danielle?”

“Yep.”

“We did all we could.”

“I suppose. She couldn’t have been more that 15 years old, Starsk. She reminded me of Molly.”

“We’ll stop and check on her on the way home.”

“Sounds like a plan. Did you hear what she said about her parents?”

“Yeah.” Starsky replied quietly.

“Cancer. Both of them. One right after the other.”

“Listen, Hutch…”

“STARSKY!!!! WATCH OUT!!!”

Just as Starsky was about to expound further, a man jumped out onto the road. He came out of nowhere. Starsky did his best to avoid him, but the sudden maneuvers sent the Torino swerving wildly. The car spun violently and almost flipped. The screech of the tires echoed across the desert like the sound a wounded, wild animal. It seemed to go on forever. Starsky could not recover and the car plowed heavily off the road and into the ditch where it finally came to an abrupt halt. Dust and debris swamped the car.

Starsky was knocked out momentarily but came around quickly. His head had bounced off the stirring wheel. Once fully cognizant, he shook his head gently and blinked rapidly. He actually saw stars. He felt his forehead for blood. There was plenty. The cut was long and wide – right at the hairline. He scrambled out of the car, took off his shirt and held it firmly to the gash to stop the bleeding. It was only then that he looked back into the car to check on Hutch. But, he wasn’t there.

“HUUUUTCH!!!” Starsky yelled. His bellow made his head pound.

There was no answer. Starsky circled the Torino searching desperately for his partner. Then he saw him sprawled out in the middle of the road about 50 yards back. He’d been thrown from the car. Starsky raced to his friend, still holding his shirt to his head. When he reached him he crouched down to give aide. His mad dash left him panting loudly and made his head bleed even more.

“Hutch! Hutch… you okay?”

He was face down. Starsky placed his hand between his shoulder blades to try and awaken him.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah.” Came a weary moan.

Then Hutch expelled a string of obscenities that would rival even the most seasoned sailor.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself?” Starsky said trying control his respiration. “Can you get up?”

“Not sure.”

“Can you try?”

“I can try.” Hutch answered with a growl.

Hutch flipped himself over seemingly in slow motion. The side of his face was a mess of road rash. It looked like raw hamburger. His shoulder and leg were badly scrapped too. Starsky struggled to get Hutch on his feet. It was hard to do with just one hand as the other was still putting pressure on his head wound. When the pair were finally upright, he walked Hutch to the side of the road and sat him down as gently as he could.

“What the hell happened?” Starsky blasted. “Who was that guy?”

He looked up and down the road to see if the man he had tried to avoid was anywhere in sight. All he could see was desert. He leaned over Hutch to get a better look at his injuries.

“Man.” He said with a wince. “You’re face is a mess.”

“I think my arm is broken.” Hutch said now holding his left bicep as if to hold it together. He stared blankly into space, still stunned by the accident.

“Can you move it?”

“No Starsky. That was my first clue that it’s broken.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes.” Hutch sighed agonizingly. “That was my second clue.”

It was only then that Hutch managed to focus and glance up at his partner.

“You’re bleeding.” He pointed out nonchalantly. “Why are you wearing your shirt on your head?”

“Because I’m bleeding.”

“Oh.” Hutch remarked weakly. “I would help you if I could but… I don’t feel…”

Hutch couldn’t finish his sentence. He slowly fell onto his side and lost consciousness.

“Oh damn.” Starsky murmured. “Wait here.”

Running on shear adrenaline, Starsky raced back to the car and popped the trunk. He pulled out the jug of water he had stowed for the trip. He doused his head trying to clean his wound. It helped. The bleeding seemed more under control now. He tossed the bloody shirt aside and went back into the trunk and routed through his duffle bag. He found a T-Shirt and twisted it into a bandana and tied it around his head. Starsky grimaced when he pulled it tight. He grabbed yet another shirt and wrestled to put it on. He left the buttons undone, took the water jug and dashed back to his partner. His Adidas slapped the broken pavement like wet pancakes.

“Hutch.” Starsky said as he poured some water into his buddy’s mouth. He drizzled a slow stream over Hutch’s face until he finally came to.

“What are you trying to do, drown me?” Hutch sputtered as he finally came to.

“Yes. I’m trying to drown you.” Starsky quipped. “I wanted you to be the first person to drown in the desert.”

“Good one.” Hutch smirked but was immediately reminded of his injured arm as he tried to sit up.

“Take it easy.”

“Starsky.” Hutch exhaled painfully. “What the hell happened?”

“Car accident.”

“I know that. Who was that guy?”

“I don’t know. And, I don’t see him anywhere either.”

“Do you suppose he’s our perp from the gas station?” Hutch said between gasps.

“Could be.” Starsky shrugged as he placed his arms under Hutch’s to try and get him on his feet again.

Starsky managed to and although unsteady, began to make his way back to the car with Hutch clinging to his partner for support. But, there standing by the driver side of the Torino was the man who had caused the crash. He was holding a rifle and was pointing it directly at Starsky and Hutch. The pair spooked and dodged into the ditch for cover causing great pain to Hutch. He yelped as his body hit the dirt with Starsky landing on top of him.

The man jumped into the car and drove it up and out of the wash with little difficulty. He was out of sight within a few seconds leaving only a wake of desert grime.

Now it was Starsky that let loose with a series of cursing.

“My CAR!!!” He bellowed. “HEY!!!”

*****

Starsky stood by the road until the sun sank behind the mountains. He had hoped a car would pass by but not a single one appeared. He was beginning to regret taking the road less travelled. It had been a terrible decision. The only saving grace was that they still had half a jug of water. Hopefully, that would see them through the night. But, a long night it would be. A long, cold night.

“How you doin’?” Starsky called to Hutch who sat on a large rock just off the side of the road.

“I’m freezing.”

“Yeah.” Starsky replied as he meandered back to his partner. “Me too.” He leaned against the rock and crossed his arms

.“What are we going to do, Starsk?”

“We’re just going to have to hunker down for the night.”

“Hunker down?”

“You know. Like they do in war movies. Hunker down.”

“Oh.” Hutch replied dryly. “The old hunker down trick.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s going to be darker than a bat cave in about 20 minutes. We better find someplace to… hunker down then huh?”

“Good idea. Where do you suppose we do that?”

“Got me.”

“Got me? Aren’t you the one who loves the outdoors? Aren’t you the one who loves camping. The trees and the water. The water and the trees.”

“Sorry Starsk. Look around. No trees. No water.”

Starsky gave his partner a sly glare. He scanned the terrain for any sign of shelter. He scouted a cluster of boulders about a half-mile from the road.

“How about over there?” He pointed.

Still clutching his arm, Hutch turned his body with great effort to view Starsky’s suggestion.

“Looks cozy.”

“Do you think you can walk over there?”

“It’s my arm that’s broken Starsk, not my legs.”

“Okay. Let’s go then.”

Within the span of their conversion, darkness seemed to engulf the land. It was so dark it felt heavy. They slowly made their way to the rocks to hopefully find some semblance of cover. When they reached their meager home for the night, they were surprised to see that it did, if fact, provide a nice opening for them to curl up in.

“There. Ya see.” Starsky said pleasantly as he squeezed in beside Hutch. “Isn’t this nice.”

“It’s four star, Starsk. Maybe we can come back next year and stay longer. Maybe bring a couple of girls.”

“Could be worse.”

“The only think worse than this hovel is that shabby bungalow you bought for us a few years back. What a disaster THAT was.”

“Okay, okay. So it wasn’t the goldmine I thought it was going to be. Will you ever let that go. Just let it go.”

“I don’t suppose we could make a fire.” Hutch suggested as he began to shiver.

“And, just how would we do that?”

“Rub two sticks together.”

“And, just where might we find two sticks?”

“You got me there, Starsk.”

“We’re just going to have to make due. It’s only 12 hours til morning. Then we’ll go back to the road and hitch hike back to town. There has to be someone else who takes the road less travelled. I’m mean, we can’t be the only ones to do that, right?”

“Right.” Hutch said as he teeth began to chatter.

“How’s your arm?”

“It’s kinda numb at the moment. So long as I don’t move I should be okay. It’s my face that really hurts. It feels like I have a beehive attached to my cheek.”

“Yeah well, it kinda looks like that.”

“Charming,”

“Man. I’m starving.” Starsky said. It was a common complaint.

“I’m a bit peckish myself.” Hutch replied. “Heeeey, look what I got.”

“Please tell me it’s something to eat.”

“Well, close. My M&Ms. They’re in my front pocket. Can you get’em?”

With some difficulty, Starsky managed to retrieve the treats. He opened the package and they shared the bag.

“These are good!” Starsky announced as he crunch his way through his hand full of candy. “I’m going to get the peanut ones from now on.”

“Yeah. At least you get the benefit of protein with these ones.”

“You know, Hutch. You are the only person I know that can take the fun out of eating candy. Protein? How cares about protein?”

“I do.” Hutch said bluntly. “Like I keep telling you. You wouldn’t be so hungry all the time if you ate the right food. It’s all about choices. If we just had the plain ones, it wouldn’t be as filling and nutritious. You’d get hungrier faster.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Starsky jeered.

After their evening meal, the cops struggled to find a comfort zone. At least they had each other’s body heat. But, that was the only warmth they were going to get. Hutch grunted with pain every time he tried to maneuver himself into a better position. After several attempts they both settled in and tried to sleep. The sounds of the desert night were eerie but oddly soothing.

“Starsk?”

“Yeah?”

“What if my results come back positive?”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Starsky answered with surprising resolve. “You’ll do what the doctor says and we’ll fight it. And, we will win. Simple as that.”

“Simple as that, huh?”

“Yup. Simple as that.”

“I’m glad you can be so certain about it cuz I’m terrified.”

“Well don’t be. You’ll be okay, Hutch.” Starsky assured as he glanced over at his partner. “Everything will be okay. Except for one little thing.”

“Oh yeah?” Hutch asked cautiously. “What’s that?”

“My car. How am I going to survive without my car?”

*****

Who knew that the desert could be so cold? As dawn broke, frost had settled onto the rocky dwelling including its inhabitants. But, it wasn’t the cold that awoke Starsky that morning, it was the sound of hissing.

“Hutch?” Starsky whispered.

“Hmmm?”

“Is that you?”

“Is that me what?”

“Making that noise.”

I don’t hear anything.”

Starsky sat up abruptly, and tried to tune into whatever was making the ominous sound. He then discovered that he and Hutch were not the only occupants of the cave.

“Hutch. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but…”

“But what?” Hutch replied with sudden alarm.

“But, we have company.”

Now Hutch was fully awake. His arm felt like it was being stabbed with a box cutter. His face and leg stung as if being soaked in iodine. But even more painful then that was the fact that he was face-to-face with a rattlesnake.

“Don’t – move.” Starsky warned quietly.

“Don’t – worry.” Hutch replied as he sat as still as the stone around him.

“I’m going to get out of here and then I’ll pull you out. Okay?”

“Okay. But, whatever you do, do it slowly.”

Gingerly, Starsky put one foot outside the opening and moved out of the space. The snake continued its menacing warning. He leaned back in to retrieve his buddy and with great care pulled Hutch to safety. Once outside the boulder’s shelter, they both breathed a sigh of relief. The morning air fogged their breath.

“That was close.” Starsky said as he placed his arm around Hutch in protective mode.

“Too close.” Hutch murmured. “Can anything else go wrong?”

“Well, look at it this way. We’ve got nowhere to go but up.”

“Convince me.” Hutch replied dubiously.

But, Starsky was distracted by what he thought was the sound of a car. The sun was barely up. The terrain was misty and mauve. He turned his attention to the road and saw Sherriff Robert’s cruiser. Starsky bolted toward the road waving his arms wildly and screaming at the top of his lungs. He didn’t want the Sherriff to miss him. It worked. The cruiser stopped just as Starsky approached.

“Are you guys alright?” The Sherriff asked as he got out of his car.

“We are now.” Starsky said still panting from his mad dash.

“Where’s your partner?”

“He’s back over there. He’s got a broken arm.”

“Well, let’s go get’em.”

The two men made their way to Hutch and helped him back to the road where all three got into the car.

“How did you find us?” Starsky asked as he sat with Hutch in the back seat.

“I saw your car in town.” The Sherriff explained. “It’s hard to miss that car of yours.”

“Yeah. It’s perfect for undercover work.” Hutch scoffed.
“Well. I saw it parked outside the bar there and I thought I’d go inside and buy you boys a drink. Thing was, you weren’t there. So, that got me a bit suspicious. So, I left but decided to stake out the place until someone came out and got into it. Turns out, it was the same guy who robbed the gas station and killed Christopher. So, I took him to the station and booked him. He confessed to killing Chris. He was drunk and they got into a fight over the money. He spooked and took off into the desert. But, then I wondered what happened to you fellas so I decided to go out looking for ya.”

“Well, we are sure glad you did.”

“Let me get you boys to the doc.”

“That would be much appreciated. Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

“Can I just ask you to do one thing Sherriff?” Hutch asked wearily.

“Of course. Just name it.”

“Can you put on the heat?”

*****

EPILOGUE

Both Starsky and Hutch were treated for their injuries. Starsky received 8 stitches to his head and Hutch had his arm set and fashioned a cast that started at his shoulder and run all the way down to his knuckles. The scrapes and bruises he suffered from being flung onto the pavement at high speed were superficial and would heal in time.

Starsky got his car back. It was remarkably unscathed. And, by the time the duo were discharged from the tiny rural hospital, it was Sunday evening. They drove back to Bay City but not before checking in on Danielle. She was glad to see them and seemed to be settling into her new role as small business owner. Hutch encouraged her to stay in touch.

The partners arrived at Hutch’s apartment around midnight. Both were spent. Hutch flopped onto his bed and fell fast asleep. He lay there fully clothed. He still had his jacket on. Starsky thought about making his partner more comfortable, but he too was as tired as twenty-year-old tire. He felt like one too. He curled up on the couch but lay there staring at the ceiling.

Tomorrow was verdict time. Tomorrow they would get the results of Hutch’s biopsy. It took quite a while for Starsky to finally close his eyes and fall asleep.

*****

Positive. Hutch was diagnosed with stage I testicular cancer. It had not spread and was easily treated with surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy. Luckily, radiation was not necessary.

Both Starsky and Hutch took a leave of absence to get Hutch through it all. They were a formidable team, better together then apart. After four months of treatment, Hutch was given the all clear. He was grateful to his partner for being there for him and apologized for keeping it a secret. He would never lie to Starsky again.

To celebrate Hutch’s recovery, the pair planned to take another road trip to the Grand Canyon. This time it would be via the direct route. No more travelling off the beaten path for them.

“You ready?” Starsky asked as started the engine of his beloved Tornio.

“Sure am.” Hutch said sounding like an excited kid.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

“Wait a minute Starsk.”

“What? Why?”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We have to make a stop.”

“Oh yeah? What for?”

“Road trip food.”

***The End***

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