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SUSPICION

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.

NOTE: The premise I’ve used for this story is very unlikely, if not downright impossible. But, this same idea has been used many times in movies and novels, so I wanted to give it a try too. I just hope the story events, as I’ve described them, will make sense and someone will find it entertaining.

Many thanks to my wonderful beta reader and friend Rebelcat. Also to Kate CMT and Ea for all their help and advice.

 

Chapter 1

It was just before three in the morning when Hutch, with lights and siren, breaking the speed limit, drove his brown LTD through the nearly empty streets of Bay City.

It had all begun a few short minutes earlier when the piercing ring of the phone had broken the silence of his apartment, awakening the blond detective.

“H’llo?” He had answered sleepily, rubbing his eyes with one hand. A glance at the alarm clock on his nightstand told Hutch that it was 2:45 a.m.

“Detective Hutchinson?” asked a female voice at the other end of the line. Her detached, professional tone of voice and the ominous implications of any unexpected call in the night quickly banished the remaining traces of sleep from the blond detective’s brain.

“Detective Hutchinson, it’s Louise Martins. Chief Nurse at Memorial Hospital. A patient has been brought to the emergency room. According to his ID, his name’s David Michael Starsky, and you are listed in our records as his next of kin.”

“S-Starsky’s in the hospital? Why? What happened? Is he going to be okay?” Hutch asked frantically. He was already out of his bed, reaching for the jeans and shirt he had tossed carelessly onto a chair a few hours earlier.

“I’m sorry, detective. The doctor will have to fill you in on Detective Starsky’s current condition,” the nurse answered, without losing her professional poise.

Hutch struggled to get dressed without losing his grip on the phone receiver. “Can’t you at least tell me what happened?”

“You’ll have to speak to Detective Starsky’s doctor.” She said gently but firmly.

Hutch didn’t need to be told twice. Without uttering another word, he hastily hung up the phone. He strode to his front door while buttoning up his shirt and putting on his holster and leather jacket, almost all at once. He rushed down the stairs of his apartment and got into his car, racing toward Memorial. He pulled to a halt front of the emergency entrance in record time.

“Detective Kenneth Hutchinson,” he said, flashing his badge at the nurse standing behind the emergency admissions counter. “My partner Detective Starsky was brought in a little while ago.”

Oh… yes,” the older woman said, after checking the registration book. “Detective Starsky is still in the Emergency Room. Doctor McGuire is treating him.”

“Please… Can you tell me anything about his condition? What’s happened to him? Anything you can tell me will be great. Please,” Hutch pleaded.

“I’m very sorry Detective,” The nurse apologized. “You really should ask Doctor McGuire about all of that.”

“It’s okay, nurse,” Hutch reassured the woman, knowing from past experience that she was only following standard hospital procedure.

“Now would you please fill out these forms, Detective?” the grey haired nurse asked. She placed a couple of sheets on the counter for Hutch to complete and sign on Starsky’s behalf. Later, she directed the detective to an empty and impersonal waiting room at the end of the corridor.

In there, the blond one sat on a rather uncomfortable and worn out armchair, bracing himself for the wait to come, and the possible bad news afterward.

Meanwhile, in a house, somewhere in the woods…

The first sensation to meet the senses of the dark haired man as he awoke was pain. Pain, acute and mercilessly nagging at the back of his head while he blinked repeatedly, trying to get rid of the fog that surrounded him. Pain, biting at his wrists, tightly tied at his back by a thick rope. Pain, spreading across his throbbing jawbone where a massive fist had crashed a short while ago.

The last memory he could recall before the darkness had engulfed him was of being suddenly awakened by huge hands ruthlessly dragging him out of his bed. Taken aback by the unexpected attack, Starsky had done his best to defend himself. But his valiant attempt was cut short when a hard punch to his face sent him flying backward to land unconscious on his bed.

Now he was in an unknown place, barefoot and dressed only in his pajama bottoms, sitting in a heavy wooden chair. He had been securely restrained by ropes tied around his torso, wrists and ankles. Starsky was sitting in the middle of a nearly empty room. The only pieces of furniture were a large, rectangular table and another wooden chair, similar to the one he was currently occupying. Actually, the room Starsky was in reminded him very much of the interrogation rooms at the precinct, a thought that did nothing to ease his growing apprehension.

The detective struggled against his restraints for several minutes, trying to loosen the ropes that held him prisoner. Soon, though, he had to give up his fruitless efforts. Starsky was still panting with the effort when he heard the soft noise of the door at his left being unlocked …

xxxxxxx

“Detective Hutchinson?” A young man wearing green scrubs stepped into the waiting room. He approached Hutch, who got quickly to his feet.

“I am Doctor McGuire,” the physician said as he reached out to shake Hutch’s hand.

“How’s my partner, Doctor? What’s happened to him?” Hutch asked anxiously. He looked at McGuire with a touch of mistrust. The blond detective wasn’t sure if he wanted a doctor who didn’t seem to be older than twenty-five treating his partner.

“From what the paramedics told me, an eyewitness saw Detective Starsky struck by a car while crossinga street. That same witness called 911 to request assistance,” Doctor McGuire explained. “However, given the circumstances of his accident, his injuries could have been much worse than they are.”

On hearing that, Hutch felt some of his tension ease. He gave a deep sigh of relief.

“As you most likely already know, the chances of a pedestrian coming out only slightly injured after having been struck by a car are rather slim,” McGuire elaborated. “But Detective Starsky has been lucky. Very lucky indeed.”

“Does this mean he’s okay?” Hutch inquired eagerly.

“Well… I’m afraid okay isn’t the right word. But he’ll be, I hope… given time, I think he…”

“Okay Doc. Stop beating around the bush,” Hutch said in a tone of voice that made McGuire lick his lips nervously. “Cut to the chase. What’s wrong with Starsky?”

“You see, Detective Hutchinson. Detective Starsky has several rather nasty bruises and scrapes on his body and face. Also, it appears that he hit his head quite hard against something. I’m not telling you that he has suffered permanent brain damage or anything, however…” McGuire seemed about to start rambling again, but Hutch’s piercing stare brought him back on track quickly. “Well, in short. As a result of that blow to his head I… we think that Detective Starsky is suffering from retrograde amnesia. That means he…”

“You think?” Hutch cut off. “What the hell does you think mean? Are you telling me that you aren’t sure if Starsky has amnesia?” By this point in his conversation with Doctor McGuire, the blond one was starting to really lose his patience.

“We hope his memory will come back in matter of a few hours. Or perhaps a few days. However, so far, apart from his name, your partner doesn’t remember much of anything. And, of course, he has no memory of the accident or of any prior events...”

xxxxxxx

Seeing the door unlock, Starsky tensed. In his current situation, unarmed and tied to a chair, he had no chance to defend himself against whomever might be about to enter the room. However, the survivor in him refused to quit fighting. His whole body radiated defiance to his unknown captors.

The first ones to enter the room were two huge men wearing dark suits and ties. They placed themselves at either sides of the door, crossing their arms over their wide chests in a clear bodyguard stance as a beautiful woman stepped into the room. She had long, jet black hair and big hazel eyes and she seemed to be in her early forties.

“Well, Detective Starsky…” she said, walking toward Starsky as one of her bodyguards locked the door. “I must say that the pictures don’t do you justice… Not at all.” As she spoke, the woman ran her eyes lasciviously over Starsky’s muscular upper body. His chest rose and fell with every nervous breath he took.

“Who the hell are you, lady?” Starsky asked, roughly. He took note of the appearance of the woman. She was very beautiful, in a sinister, dark kind of way. Her attire, from her burgundy silk blouse, her black pants, and the jewels she wore, to her stiletto-heeled shoes, spoke of wealth.

“You have a temper,” the woman replied. “I love it. I love men like you, Detective. Hot-blooded and brave, wild and handsome as a black panther.” She ran her delicate, manicured hand over Starsky’s nude torso. An invisible cloud of Chanel No. 5 surrounded the detective. “Really, it’d be a shame to have to inflict any damage on such an extraordinary body as the one you have, Detective Starsky.”

“I’ve asked you a question, lady. Who are you?” Starsky repeated in a cold voice.

Appearing disappointed by the lack of effect her bold advances had on her prisoner, the woman perched on the edge of the table. “My name’s Linda Collasanto, Detective. I am Enricco Collasanto’s wife.”

Upon hearing these names, Starsky truly understood the seriousness of the danger he was in…

xxxxxxx

Right after filling Hutch in on Starsky’s condition, Doctor McGuire left to attend to his other patients. The blond one, while waiting to be allowed into his partner’s room, had a few minutes to reflect on what the young physician had just told him.

According to McGuire’s explanation, Starsky – a man who loved his prized Torino so much that he drove it even when he could easily have walked the distance – had been a victim of a hit and run while crossing a street. Which mean that, after Hutch had driven him home, Starsky – instead of driving – had decided to walk somewhere. But just a few short hours earlier the brunet had announced that his plans for the night would consist of eating a sandwich, watching a Bogart movie on TV and going to bed early.

Yeah, okay… Maybe he ran out of sliced bread, beer, milk, or whatever, so he decided to walk to the grocery store… Or maybe he took the Tomato, but he couldn’t find a parking spot near the store entrance… Hutch mused, dubiously.

On a rational level the theory made sense, but somehow, Hutch couldn’t bring himself to believe it. His gut was telling him that something was wrong…Very wrong there.

The worried detective was still lost in these thoughts when a young nurse informed him that he could enter Starsky’s room.

The man lying on the bed was asleep under the effect of the painkillers the medical team had given him. Hutch sat down on the small bedside armchair and carefully took in the appearance of the one he thought was his friend. His face was swollen and a nasty looking scratch marred his left cheek, from his jaw to his temple. That side of his face had, in all likelihood, been the side that had taken the worst of the impact against the asphalt when the car had struck him. Hutch felt a shiver run down his spine. That ghastly scene was one he would rather not picture. The blond one also guessed that under the white hospital gown there had to be a number of painful bruises and lacerations. However, Hutch was deeply relieved that his injuries hadn’t been much worse.

Then, his mind went back to ponder the events of the last few hours...

Starsky a victim of an accidental hit and run? Maybe this job of ours is making me paranoid, but I just can’t buy it, the blond detective thought. This whole thing’s quite improbable… unless the accident was no accident… But then... if someone intended to kill Starsk, how is it that he’s not even seriously injured?

In his mind, Hutch ran through a list of recent cases that over the last few months had earned him and Starsky a number of new enemies. There were quite a few of them, but at the top of that list, the name of Enricco Collasanto definitely stuck out as the most dangerous and powerful enemy of them all…

Some months earlier, in a complex combined action between the BCPD and the FBI, Collasanto and several of his men had been arrested. Until that moment, Collasanto had been one of the most elusive, influential and dangerous mobsters operating in the East Coast over the last ten years.

Currently Collasanto was in jail, awaiting trial after Judge Donald Peterson had refused to set bail for him. In addition, Charles J. Lennox and his family had been hidden in a safe house some miles away from Bay City. Lennox had been Collasanto’s personal secretary for many years, until he finally had betrayed him. His breaking point had come when the mobster, in the heat of an argument with Lennox, had openly threatened the man’s wife and kids.

Now Lennox was the main witness for the prosecution. He was the man who, in exchange for immunity from prosecution and a new identity for himself and his family, could help sentence his former boss to spend the rest of his life in prison for the many crimes he had committed. Collasanto might even face capital punishment. Lennox was the one man who Collasanto would most like to find and silence forever.

And the problem for Starsky and Hutch was that they were two of the very few police officers who knew the location of the safe house where Charles J. Lennox and his family were hiding…

I bet Collasanto would love to get his hands on Starsky, me, or both of us. Hutch thought. Even though he hadn’t accepted it for himself either, Hutch regretted his failure to convince his stubborn partner to accept protection from the precinct.

But that guy’s not stupid. He won’t kill us… at least not before he gets out of us the information he so badly needs right now…

xxxxxxx

Collasanto’s wife had talked. She, visibly enjoying the barely hidden apprehension in her prisoner’s tense features, had explained to Starsky all about the twisted plan Collasanto had concocted in his prison cell to find Lennox.

“Firstly, let me make something clear, detective… If you think that someone out there is looking for you, you can forget it. No one’s looking for you, because as far as everyone’s concerned, from Detective Hutchinson to the whole Ninth Precinct, you aren’t missing…”

“Don’t make me laugh, lady,” Starsky shot back, derisively. “Of course Hutch, and the whole rest of the Ninth Precinct, are going to notice I’ve been kidnapped. As a matter of fact…”

“Have you ever wondered how much money can buy, detective?” Linda Collasanto cut him off.

Starsky was taken aback by the unexpected question.

“A large sum of money can buy almost anything,” she added. “Even a man… especially a man like Sam Clayton. A poor devil who has dreamed his whole life of becoming an actor, a celebrity with fame and fortune and the admiration of the people, but who knows deep inside that he’ll be nothing but a loser all his life.”

“Clayton? Sam Clayton?” Starsky asked. His defiance had turned into puzzlement.

“Yes. Sam Clayton. One of the men working for the cleaning and maintenance service in the Ninth Precinct for the last two years. As most likely you’ve noticed, that dark-haired, blue-eyed guy already bore quite a strong resemblance to you before he went through the plastic surgery. And you should see him now, Detective. Our team of plastic surgeons did an outstanding work on him.”

“You can’t be serious! Damn you! You’re just trying to fool me!” Starsky shouted. He began thrashing in an attempt to free himself from the ropes keeping him restrained and at the mercy of a deranged woman and her goons.

“Take it easy, detective,” the woman said, unruffled, once Starsky, out of breath, had stopped his fruitless struggle. “You’ll want to hear the rest of what I have to tell you. Especially because I am about to talk about your partner, Detective Hutchinson.”

“Listen, lady… Don’t you dare hurt Hutch or I swear you’re going to regret it much sooner than you think,” Starsky growled, looking at the woman with hate-filled eyes.

“Right now your partner is at Memorial Hospital, Detective Starsky. But so far, he’s fine. Actually, Hutchinson is in there taking solicitous care of you, because a while ago, you were a victim of a hit and run. But don’t worry, Detective. The other Detective Starsky will be just fine. None of his injuries are life threatening. However, as Doctor McGuire must have already informed detective Hutchinson, Detective Starsky has come through the accident suffering a very well-timed case of ‘amnesia.’ So far as everyone around him knows, he doesn’t remember a single thing about the last several months, hence, Detective Hutchinson won’t think it at all suspicious if his partner starts asking him questions about the most recent cases they’ve worked on. Hutchinson won’t wonder why his partner wants to know about the Collasanto case. Or about Lennox’s whereabouts.”

“That’s a stupid plan, lady. And you know it,” Starsky snapped. “No way is Hutch going to be unable to spot the difference between that guy and myself.”

“Yeah, yeah…We have very reliable information sources, Detective Starsky. We know very well just how close your partner and you are, and of course, we’re quite sure that eventually Hutchinson will discover what’s going on. But by then it’ll be too late for Lennox… and maybe for your partner, too.”

“What do you mean?” Starsky asked, trying to gain time to think of any possible way out, though he clearly guessed the ominous meaning in the woman’s words.

“My dear Detective, don’t try to fool me,” Linda Collasanto said, almost playfully. “I just can’t believe that, besides those fine looks of yours, you haven’t also gotten an exceptional intelligence. In a couple of days, the well trained ‘copy’ of you we have created –so to speak– will have been able to get the information we need from Detective Hutchinson. From then on, well… let’s just say that Sam Clayton is absolutely expendable to us. Just as your partner and, unluckily, you are. For us, you are all pawns in a chess game. We don’t care in the least if Clayton hurts or kills Hutchinson, or if Hutchinson kills, hurts, or arrests Clayton. Whatever happens to him, our phony Detective Starsky knows better than to betray us. And, of course, we have prepared a ‘plan B’ in the unlikely event our main plan doesn’t work.” The woman kept explaining. “If for some reason, our man has been unable to get the information we want, in… let’s say two days, then we’ll, sort of “rescind his contract”. And meanwhile, for good measure, we’ll have gotten that information from you.”

“You’re dreaming, lady,” Starsky stated defiantly. “You aren’t going to get a single answer from me. I wouldn’t even give you my birth date.”

“Oh Detective, You’re just delightful!” Linda Collasanto uttered an evil giggle. “But believe me,” she added, becoming serious and casting a brief look at one of her bodyguards. “No matter how hard you try to resist, you will end up giving us Lennox’s whereabouts. My men have very convincing methods of getting the answers I need to know from any man, even the most stubborn ones.”

As if to emphasize the woman’s statement, and too quickly for Starsky to brace himself, a huge man stepped up in front of the brunet and punched him full force in his stomach. Starsky gasped in pain, trying to double over.

“Now I have to go out for a while, Detective.”Linda Collasanto grabbed a handful of Starsky’s hair and pulled his head backward to stare in his eyes. “But I’ll come back later to ask you about the exact location of the safe house where Lennox and his family are hiding. And let me warn you... If I don’t get the answer I want to hear, and if I don’t get it fast, I won’t care in the least what my men do to you…”

xxxxxxx

Over the last couple of hours, as the man posing as Starsky dozed in his narcotic haze, Hutch had made a phone call to Dobey to inform his superior officer about Starsky’s accident. As well, he talked to one of the two young police officers who had been at the scene.

“We got a call from an unidentified man, Detective Hutchinson,” the uniformed policeman told Hutch. “He asked for an ambulance. We told him to wait for us, to take his statement, but when we got there, Detective Starsky was only accompanied by a pair of young bystanders. From what they said, the man, after calling us from a nearby payphone, left the scene in a hurry.

“Have you got a description on the man?” Hutch asked.

“Yes, sir. But according to the couple who saw him, he looks like most other people. Early to mid 50’s, short brown hair getting thinner on his forehead. About 5’10 height, 160 to 170 pounds, dressed in brown corduroy slacks and a black turtleneck… Nothing that’ll make it easy for us to find him. Besides, the eyewitnesses weren’t able to see his face clearly, so there’s no chance a sketch artist could draw him.”

“Yeah... I got it,” Hutch said tiredly, as he rested his stiffening back against the wall next to the payphone. “It’s okay. I’ll wait for Starsky to wake up. With any luck he’ll be able to give me more details about the car that hit him.”

Out of respect for Starsky, Hutch wasn’t willing to share with an almost unknown fellow policeman the current, real condition his partner was in. But the blond one was aware that unless Starsky’s memory returned in the next few hours, the chance of finding the car’s driver would be almost zero.

After hanging up the phone, Hutch grabbed a drink from the coffee machine in the waiting room and came back to keep his vigil by his sleeping friend. By then, dawn was less than an hour away.

The blond detective tried to make himself comfortable on the lumpy armchair by Starsky’s bed. Hutch stretched out his legs and rested his head against the back of his seat. He closed his eyes and tried to give some rest to his fatigued body and mind.

For a while, nothing could be heard in the room. Then the man in the bed began to stir.

 

Chapter 2

Upon hearing the soft movements, Hutch got quickly to his feet. He leaned over Clayton, the phony Starsky.

“Hey Starsk… How do you feel, buddy?” he asked, gently rubbing Clayton’s forearm. Physical contact always had a calming effect when either of them was in pain or distress, and it never crossed Hutch’s mind that his touch could disturb Starsky. He was sure that, despite his amnesia, somehow, his friend would still be able to sense the affection and comfort his friendly touch conveyed. Instead though, Clayton’s body tensed. It was subtle, yet so noticeable to Hutch, that he, taken aback, quickly removed his hand from the injured man’s arm.

“Shh… Take it easy, Starsky,” Hutch crooned. “It’s me, Hutch.”

“H-Hutch?” Clayton asked in a slurred voice.

“Yeah… your partner. And your best friend, too.”

“You… you and me? We’re… Partners?” Clayton seemed genuinely at a loss.

“No Starsk… It’s not like that.” Hutch smiled, shaking his head. “You and I are police detectives. And we work together as a team… We’ve been partners for quite awhile now. Do you understand, Starsky?”

“Guess so…” the other answered rather halfheartedly.

“It’s okay, buddy. I guess you’re feeling pretty confused right now. But everything is gonna be all right, honest.”

“Whe- Where am I? My head hurts… and I… I don’t remember… anything,” the man in bed said, sounding miserable.

“Look, Starsky… A few hours ago, a car hit you. And you’re in the hospital. But you haven’t got anything to worry about. Like I told you, you’re going to be fine.”

“But why... Why can’t I remember? Why can’t I remember any of that?” Clayton questioned.

“Well, it looks like in the accident you bumped your head against something. Because of that, right now, you can’t remember some stuff, but your doctor told me that your memory will come back in a few days,” Hutch told Starsky, not sure if he was saying more than his partner could handle at that moment. “Now, how about if I go to the nurses’ station to get some ice chips for you, huh?” the blond one offered. “I bet you must be thirsty.”

“ ‘Kay” Clayton agreed with a raspy voice, as his eyelids began to close again.

“Be right back, buddy,” Hutch said, restraining himself from patting Clayton’s hand before leaving the room.

Hutch headed toward the door, and so was unable to see when the man he thought was Starsky opened his eyes and, looking fully alert, stared at him while the hint of a derisive smile curled the corner of his mouth.

xxxxxxx

For a long while –long enough that Starsky had lost track of the time– Linda Collasanto kept relentlessly asking him the same question over and over. And every time he refused to provide her with the answer she wanted Starsky had earned himself a merciless beating from the goons who, at the moment, stood on either side of the restrained detective waiting for a signal from the woman to punch him again.

“I’ll ask you once more, Detective Starsky,” Linda Collasanto said, standing in front of Starsky. “Where are Lennox and his family hiding? What’s the exact location of the safe house they’re in?”

“Go… go to hell… lady,” Starsky answered boldly, looking straight at the woman through swollen, half-opened eyelids.

“DAMN IT!” she yelled, losing her composure and slapping Starsky’s face. “What do you expect to achieve with this, Detective? Do you want my men to beat you to death? Why the hell are you so willing to sacrifice yourself for a man that you’ve only seen … how often? Once in all your life? Twice, maybe? A man who, according to the law you so obstinately defend, is as much a criminal as my husband is? Someone whom, on top of it all, got off the hook by betraying his own boss; the man he had willingly vowed to respect?”

“You… You wouldn’t understand...” Starsky answered, struggling to remain conscious.

“You’re right! Darn right! I don’t get it. Fuck!” Collasanto’s wife snapped. She slammed the top of the table with her small palm before storming towards the exit. Her goons hurried to follow her and unlock the door. Then, the woman left the room with both men in tow.

She headed to her luxurious living room. Once there, she went to the cocktail cabinet and poured herself a whisky. Then she sat down in one of the white leather armchairs. Linda took a sip of her drink and pulled a cigarette from the silver case on the nearby coffee table. She was about to light it when she recalled her vow to quit smoking and furiously tossed the cigarette onto the floor.

Linda Collasanto was seething. She had never been confident in the success of her husband’s bizarre plan to get rid of Lennox. Enricco had explained to her that simply kidnapping both Starsky and Hutch, for the purpose of torturing them to make them talk would be too risky. He was the detectives’ biggest bust in the last few years and all fingers in the force would point at him as the main suspect in the abduction. But Linda wasn’t convinced. She still trusted in the old-fashioned way of making a man talk. And that way was only by torturing him

Because of that, she had begun interrogating Starsky before giving Clayton any chance to do his work. Time was of the essence. Enricco Collasanto’s trial would start in a few days, and his wife wasn’t willing to accept failure. She wasn’t going to lose all her luxuries and privileges. Really, they were the only reason she keep married to such an egocentric, unkind and despotic bastard as Enricco Collasanto was. Unfortunately, things weren’t going as well as she had expected…

That damn pig is tougher than I expected, she thought. Maybe the quickest, the only way to break him will be through Hutchinson. But if I try to get that blond guy now, I could screw things up very badly…

Actually, Linda had to consider the fact that if her men were not able to make Starsky talk, then her only hope was an almost unknown man; a poor devil named Samuel Clayton.

xxxxxxx

Starsky; thinking that he had heard steps approaching him, awoke with a start. He cracked open his swollen lids to see that he was the only one in the room. The beating he had endured had stopped a while ago. He was no longer tied to the chair, but curled up in a heap on the cold floor.

The memories returned slowly. One of Collasanto’s goons had come back to untie him. As soon as he was free of the restraining ropes, Starsky, defeated by exhaustion and pain, had collapsed to the floor, quickly falling into an unsettled slumber. Now, however, he needed to use the bathroom. Earlier, he had seen a half-open door that led to a restroom some feet away, so, gathering his fading strength Starsky struggled painfully to his feet. Leaning against the walls for support he made his way to the small, sparsely supplied bathroom.

Sitting on the toilet lid, he carefully prodded his bruised face. The bathroom didn’t have a mirror but Starsky didn’t needed one to know how bad he had to be looking.

Geez…those bastards had a lotta fun working me over, Starsky thought humorlessly, gently applying some cold water from the tap to his swollen lips. He couldn’t see his face, but a couple of angry-looking bruises covered his left cheek and dried blood streaked his jaw. His whole body was hurting and there were red marks around his wrists and ankles, where the ropes had kept him tightly secured to the chair. He had been badly roughed up, and since he wasn’t going to be giving his captor the information she wanted, there wasn’t much of a chance he’d escape a new and harder “questioning”.

But what was worse was that, if the woman who held him prisoner had told him the truth, no one was going to miss him. At that very moment, his partner and best friend was with a man who might turn out to be dangerous… very dangerous for Hutch.

xxxxxxx

Starsky was acting weird. At least, that was what Hutch thought. The blond had never pondered about what it would be like to wake up after an accident of some kind, devoid of memories. But even so, he couldn’t help thinking it was weird. Knowing his partner as well as he did, some of Starsky’s reactions as the brunet had gone from lethargic to wide awake over the last few hours, were quite surprising to him.

For starters, Starsky didn’t seem to feel too worried about his current situation. Despite being a man well known for expressing his feelings and moods with vehemence, the brunet was dealing with his lack of memory in an eerily stoic way. Sure, at the moment, Starsky was unable to remember what Hutch meant to him, so it was likely he was keeping his confusion and fears to himself. Even so, the blond detective would have expected that their close friendship would give him the ability to somehow to notice his distress. Besides, there were other small details that made Hutch fear that his friend’s condition might be worse than Doctor McGuire had diagnosed.

There was something… Hutch thought it had to be just a product of his imagination, but Starsky’s use of his hands seemed somehow awkward. It seemed as if for the briefest instant he wanted to pick up and handle items with his right hand, and then he “forced” himself to do it with his left.

Oh, come on! That’s the most absurd idea you’ve had in a long time, Hutch chided himself. There’s nothing wrong with Starsky. He’s probably just a bit rattled, which is not so strange considering he was struck by a car not even twelve hours ago.

But regardless, as that first day in the hospital went by, Hutch couldn’t help noticing tiny signs that kept telling him that something was very wrong. Signs like the discomfort Starsky did his best to hide every time Hutch invaded his personal space, when he sat down on the edge of his bed or took a sip of water from his glass.

The blond detective wanted to believe that his partner’s odd behavior was the result of the emotional stress his sudden amnesia was causing him. It was a big relief to Hutch when, late that same evening, the pretended Starsky, began to tentatively ask just the kind of questions he needed to hear to soothe his inexplicable apprehension.

“How long have you and I been friends, Hutch?” he wanted to know.

“For nearly ten years. We met at the Police Academy. I joined the force looking for a career, but I also found the best friend and partner a man could have,” Hutch explained, fondly. His voice was so filled with affection that, for a moment, Clayton felt a lump in his throat.

“It feels so strange,” the dark haired man said, despondently. “I mean, it’s strange knowing there’s a lot of stuff that’s part of my life, part of who I am, and I can’t remember it.”

“I know, Starsk… Maybe I can’t know exactly how you feel, but this whole thing has to be very frustrating. I’m sure of that.”

“Tell me more, Hutch… Tell me about my family. I do have family, don’t I?” Clayton was still playing his role.

“Oh, sure, buddy. Aside from a whole bunch of distant relatives, you have your mom, Rachel. She’s a lovely lady. You’ve also got a younger brother named Nicky.” Who happens to be the biggest jerk I’ve ever met, Hutch thought. “They’re living in New York City, where you were born. Besides them, you’ve also got your Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al… and they live right here, in Bay City.”

“And what about my father? Why haven’t you mentioned him, Hutch?”

Of course… With or without amnesia, Starsky is too smart to overlook the fact that I haven’t mentioned his old man, Hutch thought. He gave Starsky a brief account of Michael Starsky’s death in the line of duty, happened many years ago.

“It’s because my father was a cop that I wanted to follow his steps, isn’t it?” Clayton asked. At that moment, he seemed truly downcast.

“Yeah... guess so, buddy.” My father… He didn’t say ‘Pop’ the way he always does. Hutch mused. Once again he felt an unsettling sensation of loss. It was as if a piece of his best friend’s soul had been taken away, right along with his memories.

“Tell me something, Hutch…” Clayton’s change of subject brought Hutch back to the here and now. “What case are we currently working on? Something interesting?”

“Just yesterday, we arrested a man who had killed two prostitutes. The case wasn’t too hard to solve, actually,” Hutch responded.

“That’s it? You mean we haven’t worked on anything more important than the offing of a coupla hookers?”

Clayton’s callous reaction to the murders was so little like Starsky, that the blond detective almost cringed.

“Okay, Starsky; maybe the case itself wasn’t anything to write home about, but we are talking about the assassination of two human beings here.” Hutch’s words were harsher that he intended. He didn’t want to lash out at his injured friend, but he was having a hard time dealing with the subtle yet disturbing changes in Starsky’s demeanor. This, combined with his fatigue, was making him edgy and irritable. The dark-haired detective, as Hutch knew him, had never ever thought less of anyone, regardless of that person’s place in the world. Starsky had always been non-judgmental, and highly respectful of the dignity of all the civilians he had vowed to protect. His unexpected comment about the murdered women was therefore unpleasantly surprising.

“Hey, hey, Hutch! Take it easy, will ya?” Clayton said. He was trying to make amends for what based on Hutch’s reaction had clearly been a slip. “I didn’t mean anything against those women. It’s just that… well, maybe it’s nothing, but I think I’m very close to remembering something important about… I dunno, maybe some big bust we’ve been working on recently. And I don’t think it has anything to do with those women’s murders.”

“I’m sorry, Starsk,” Hutch apologized, earnestly. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that, but I …”

“It’s okay, partner,” Clayton said, raising his palm toward Hutch. “You haven’t done anything to be sorry about. Now, if you just could tell me more about our recent cases, maybe I’ll be able to pin down that memory I’ve got nagging me…”

“Well, Starsky, actually the biggest case we’ve worked on this year was the Collasanto bust. Working with the FBI, we wrapped up the whole thing a few months ago, and right now, the bastard’s behind bars waiting for his trial to start.”

“The Collasanto bust?” Clayton asked, trying not to sound too eager. “Who is that guy, anyway?”

“Enricco Collasanto has been one of the most…”

“Dinner’s hereee…,” Nurse Sheppard sang. The plump, motherly older woman with a soft spot for Starsky entered the room with Clayton’s dinner, interrupting Hutch’s explanation. The man in bed didn’t say a word, but the incensed glare he cast her way told the poor woman that she’d chosen a very ill-timed moment to make her joyful entrance.

Feeling embarrassed, and a little shocked, Nurse Sheppard placed the tray of food onto the overbed table before silently leaving the room. She almost bumped into Captain Dobey, who was entering the room. Unluckily for Clayton, with the Captain’s arrival, his opportunity to bring up the subject of the Collasanto bust was over for the day.

xxxxxxx

Starsky’s respite was short lived. Escorted by her goons, Linda Collasanto returned.

Ignoring the ache of his battered body, he had tried hard to find a way out of the securely locked room. Unfortunately, the bathroom had no window, and Starsky couldn’t find any item strong enough to pry the lock open.

Realizing there was no chance to escape, he’d settled for pounding on the door, yelling a string of threats at his captors until exhaustion conquered him, and he, sliding to the floor, fell once more into an unsettled doze. He was sleeping when, once more, he was surprised by his tormentors, and dragged back to the chair where the interrogation started over.

“Well, Detective Starsky,” the woman said, smiling darkly. She didn’t seem impressed at all by the sorry condition the detective was in.

“You see, I’m not as evil as you think. I even allowed you a break, as proof of my good disposition. But unfortunately now we have to get back to business. I need to finish what I’ve started. Hopefully, it’ll be in a way that benefits both of us.”

“Fuck you!” Starsky spat, with all the hatred he could put into those two words.

“No, no, no, my dear detective. Such foul language isn’t what I expect from you. I just want the answer to a very simple question. I want to know where Charles J. Lennox and his family are hiding.”

Starsky remained silent, bracing himself for the blow that a moment later crashed into his midsection. The brunet knew he couldn’t talk. He just couldn’t reveal Lennox’s whereabouts. But he was also very aware that, in all likelihood, he would pay for his silence with his life, and that would mean that no one was going to warn Hutch about Clayton, and the danger that man meant.

Starsky knew that had to get out of there and warn his partner. But the only plan he could think of would mean, in all likelihood, sacrificing himself.

So what? Starsky thought, grimly. This bitch and her muscle men are going to kill me no matter what. At least, if I can get outta here, maybe Hutch will have a chance.

The moment for the desperate measures had come.

“It’s… it’s okay… I’ll tell you w-what you wanna... wanna know.” Starsky said to Collasanto’s wife, apparently too weak even to keep his head upright.

“Now that’s what I call a wise decision, Detective,” she answered, already savoring her triumph. “And I hope you mean what you’re saying because, let me warn you I’m not going to put up with idiotic tricks.”

Starsky, feeling nauseous and light-headed didn’t bother answering.

“Okay, Detective. Now tell me. Where’s Lennox’s safe house located?” Linda Collasanto asked.

“N-No address. The sa-safe house is in a hidden s-spot in the woods.” Starsky said, struggling to stay conscious and think clearly. “And you… you’ll be unable to get the-there...”

“Let me guess. The place is surrounded by cops. Or maybe you were never a Boy Scout and you’re real bad at drawing maps… Maybe you’re afraid I’ll get lost on my way there?” Collasanto’s wife mocked.

“Co-cops… There’s cops all around the house… and no-nothing you can do to… to me is gonna cha-change that.” Starsky said with the scarce strength he had left. He just wanted to get out there. And once outside that room, if he was lucky enough to be taken to a car, he’d do everything in his power to flee. His only goal was to warn Hutch about the danger he was in. At this point, Starsky didn’t much care if that warning came to his partner by way of his own death.

“No, huh? So I advise you to start thinking of a safe way to get past those cops… for your own sake,” Linda Collasanto warned Starsky in a no-nonsense tone of voice.

“I… I’ll have to drive you there … that way you’ll won’t attract the cops’ a...attention. It’s your only cha…chance to get close to Lennox,” Starsky slurred.

For a few seconds, the woman silently stared at her prisoner, pondering his words.

“Untie him” she finally commanded her men. And with that, she left the room.

xxxxxxx

With some effort, Dobey managed to coax Hutch into going home and getting a shower, some food and a few hours of real rest. It was nearly 10 p.m. and for the first time since he had been brought to the hospital, Clayton was awake and alone in his room. Sleep was eluding him. The bittersweet memories of the closeness and affection that Hutch, thinking he was Starsky, had offered him all day long mercilessly haunted his mind. He was feeling remorse and regret.

Things had never gone well for him, but this time Sam Clayton had just touched rock bottom. Agreeing to do this had been the worst mistake of his whole life.

Since his teenage years, believing his dark good looks could be the key to his success, he had dreamed of becoming an actor. An admired and respected celebrity. Some years ago he had left his home in a small town near Buffalo to pursue his dream. He had walked away from his job in a garage, his family and friends, and even the girlfriend with whom he’d had a long-time relationship, and he’d moved to L.A..

It all soon proved to be for nothing. In his first two years in Los Angeles, Sam Clayton attended more castings that he could remember. He wasted all of his money on expensive clothes, on finding a manager, and on attending social events hoping to be seen. The result of all this effort had been a few spots in TV commercials and a couple of minor roles in some rather bad movies, as well as a starring role in a porn flick. He had also done some other things he wasn’t proud of, like taking on the occasional job as an escort for mature, wealthy women, and even selling his body –usually to women but, sometimes, to men.

Meanwhile, unable to face his own failure, Clayton kept lying to all the relatives and friends he’d left behind in his hometown. In all of his letters and phone calls, he had never dared to tell them the truth about his unsuccessful struggles to survive on the West Coast.

Finally, he had left L.A. and moved to the less expensive Bay City. There, unable to find any other employment, he was forced to accept a job in a cleaning services company working for the BCPD’s Ninth Precinct. By then, Sam Clayton had almost abandoned his dream of becoming an actor, though, from time to time, mostly to earn some extra money but also to feed his craving for a chance to mingle with the classiest inhabitants of the city, he would still offer his services as an escort for lonely older women. With them, he attended parties where rich and influential people gathered. It was at one of those social gatherings where he met Linda Collasanto.

From then on, things began spiraling out of his control. She enticed him with a few nights of sex and the promise of a shocking amount of money, a new identity, and a new life outside of the States if he agreed to be the key part in Enricco Collasanto’s deranged plan. Clayton, lured by what seemed like his big break, had recklessly agreed to all of it and soon afterwards he began going through his training and the plastic surgeries needed to turn him into Detective David Starsky.

Soon he had sold his soul to the Devil.

Unfortunately by the time he had realized the enormity of his error it was too late to amend things. At the present, Sam Clayton was just a wretched, guilt-ridden man who lived his personal hell trapped behind the face of another man –A valiant and decent man who, like his partner Ken Hutchinson, had been always kind to Clayton, and who was now almost certainly going to be killed.

If nothing else, that was enough to stir the conscience that for too long Clayton had tried to silence.

Chapter 3

Moving on sheer willpower, Starsky followed Linda Collasanto’s commands and drove his Torino down a deserted road, instead of the more crowded highway. It was the middle of the night, and so far, the first part of his plan seemed to be working. He had deliberately left his seatbelt undone and, just as he’d hoped, Collasanto’s wife hadn’t thought to do hers up either.

The woman was in the passenger seat, aiming the barrel of her small silver gun at Starsky’s ribcage. Hoping to attract as little attention as possible when they arrived at the safe house, she had ordered just one of her goons to accompany them. The man, equally well armed, was sitting in the back seat, watching Starsky closely.

Earlier, after Collasanto’s goons had untied him, Starsky had been left alone in the room for what he thought had to be close to an hour. Then the door had been unlocked again and the woman had stepped inside carrying a change of clothes and a pair of dark sunglasses. The glasses were meant to hide his swollen eyes, and the bruises on his face, as much as possible.

“Get dressed, Detective. Your car is waiting outside,” she announced curtly.

“My…my car?” Though at that point it did not really matter, Starsky didn’t like the idea of driving his cherished Torino, with the plan he had in mind.

“That’s what I said. We don’t want to attract attention, so you’ll drive your own car. That way everything will look normal,” Linda Collasanto said. Turning on her heel, she disappeared once more.

Though he hated feeling as helpless as he did at that moment, Starsky had made up his mind. He knew just what he had to do. In a few minutes he’d be out of that room, driving his own car. And if he was lucky enough, he’d be able to protect Lennox and warn Hutch, saving both men’s lives, all in one go. Not that his plan would help him very much. What he had in mind was barely shy of suicide.

As the miles passed, Starsky kept driving. His captors were unaware that the detective was taking them as far as possible from Lennox’s safe house, while waiting for a chance to make his move.

Soon, that chance showed up.

“Now, careful, Detective… I don’t want any nonsense. Do you hear me?” Linda Collasanto pushed the barrel of her gun deeper into Starsky’s side. They had both seen the red lights of a patrol car parked on the side of the opposite lane. A police officer was standing on the driver’s side of another car, some feet away.

“Sure, lady. I got it.” Starsky answered, without taking his eyes off the road ahead of him.

Silently, he addressed his beloved Torino. Okay babe... I really hate to have to do this to you, but this time I’m afraid I haven’t got another choice… it’s Hutch’s life we’re talking about

He closed in on the parked cruiser. Suddenly, Starsky stomped down on the gas pedal, sharply pulling to the left. Both Linda Collasanto and the thug in the back seat lost their balance, slamming into the side of the car. The detective took advantage of that moment’s distraction, and sped directly toward the patrol car.

“GET OUTTA THE WAY! GET OUTTA THE WAAAAAY!” Starsky yelled at the patrolman.

Linda Collasanto pulled the trigger of her gun. The bullet missed Starsky by mere inches. He swerved wildly, and the gun fell from her hand as she nearly landed in Starsky’s lap, only to be thrown against the passenger door a second later as Starsky kept up his erratic driving. Meanwhile, in the back seat, Collasanto’s goon kept tumbling from side to side, trying desperately to grab onto something and recover his own weapon, which had fallen under the seats.

Though the entire scenario played out in less than thirty seconds, it seemed to take forever. In a last minute, holding the wheel one handed, Starsky grabbed the seatbelt and pulled it across his chest, snapping it closed. He had almost no time to brace himself for the impact with the cruiser. His foot was locked on the brake as the Torino skidded out of control. He felt himself lurch forward violently as the momentum of the car came to a sudden halt. Then he was thrown back, his head snapping forcefully as the loud crash of metal on metal filled his ears.

That crash was the last thing Starsky heard. The last thing he saw was the body of Linda Collasanto going through the windshield to land face down on the Torino’s mangled hood.

Then, silence and a blissful, pain-free darkness engulfed him.

xxxxxxx

As soon as he arrived home, Hutch ate an apple and a yogurt. Then he took a quick shower and went to bed. He was exhausted, but over an hour later he still hadn’t managed to fall asleep yet. He tossed and turned, trying to put his thoughts into some semblance of order. An uncanny idea, one that was frankly absurd, kept bugging him.

It was impossible, but there was something about Starsky… something intangible and very subtle that was so unlike him, that Hutch couldn’t help but be disturbed by it. His gut was telling him that the man he had left at Memorial Hospital was not Starsky...

Yeah sure… aliens have abducted Starsk, and they’ve replaced him with a clone…Hutch thought, sarcastically. Hutch, boy! You’re losing it!

But despite how ridiculous it seemed, the blond detective kept trying to think of any way he could find to be sure that Starsky was really Starsky.

Scars… Starsky has a small scar on his upper back, near his shoulder since he got shot at Giovanni’s, Hutch mused. I have to check if that scar is there…

The question was how to do that, without everyone thinking he’d gone insane.

Just then, for second night in a row, the phone rang.

“Hutchinson.” he answered quickly.

“Hutch? Hutch, it’s you?” It seemed to be Starsky. Actually, to Hutch the voice at the other end of the line sounded quite a lot like Starsky, but not totally like Starsky.

“Starsky?” Hutch asked. And it wasn’t a rhetoric question. Actually Hutch doubted that the voice coming from the other end of the line was Starsky’s “Are you okay, Starsk?”

“Listen Hutch. I need to talk to you. Right now. It’s very important, and it can’t wait until the morning.”

“What’s wrong, Starsky? ”

“Not now, Hutch. Not by phone,” Clayton answered. He hung up.

Hoping his partner would tell him that his memory had come back and that he had seen his attacker and, above all, trying to ignore his own illogical suspicions, Hutch dressed in a hurry. Then, just as he had the night before, he rushed to his car, and sped toward Memorial hospital.

In the room, he found a tired and unsettled-looking Clayton. The curly-haired man sat up in his bed, nervously twisting the edge of his bed sheet.

“Hey… Hey, buddy. What’s wrong, huh? Is it your memory? It’s back, isn’t it?” Hutch asked in soothing voice, as he sat on the edge of Clayton’s bed. Nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to hear.

“I… I thought I could do this, Detective Hutchinson... I really thought I’d be able to go on with this charade, but I just can’t. No matter what happens, I just can’t continue with this lie.”

“Starsky… Hey, partner. What are you talking about? And why are you calling me Detective Hutchinson?” Hutch was becoming more scared with each passing moment. Now he was sure. Something very weird was happening there. And it had nothing to do with Starsky’s amnesia.

“I… I’m not Starsky, Detective Hutchinson. I’m not your partner,” Clayton said.

“Say… What?” Hutch’s eyebrows shot upward. He wasn’t sure if he had heard correctly.

“Listen, detective, this whole thing is very difficult to explain, and even harder to believe, I know… But I am not Detective Starsky, I don’t have amnesia, and for that matter I’m not the victim of a hit and run either. My name is Clayton. Samuel Clayton. As most likely you remember, I work for the company in charge of doing the cleaning in the Ninth Precinct. What happened last night was no accident. It’s all been part of a carefully planned conspiracy...”

Have confessed to Hutch, Clayton finally allowed himself to breathe, exhaling the air he had been inadvertently holding in his lungs.

“No… No, no, Starsky.” Hutch got to his feet and began pacing the room. “Look, partner. You’re not feeling well. You’re confused, and you need help. Medical help. I’ll get a doctor…”

“DAMN IT, DETECTIVE!!” Clayton shouted. “You have to listen! You’ve gotta believe me! It doesn’t matter what I look like! I’m not Detective Starsky! And right now, he’s in trouble... In big trouble!”

Hutch was shocked beyond words… there he was, standing in front of a man who looked, sounded and acted just like Starsky. A man who was telling him that his eeriest, most implausible intuition had been absolutely correct.

An exact double of Starsky who claimed not to be Starsky…

Then the blond one strode toward Clayton, taking him aback. He jerked the man’s hospital gown open, looking for the small bullet scar in Starsky’s back.

Of course, Clayton’s shoulder was unmarked.

“WHERE’S STARSKY?... TELL ME, DAMN YOU! WHERE THE HELL IS MY PARTNER?” Hutch shouted. He grabbed Clayton’s arms, rattling the man so hard that he could hear the clattering of his own teeth.

“I’m not sure…I just…” The brunet was trying to speak, when Captain Dobey rushed into the room, cutting his words short.

“Christ almighty!” Dobey exclaimed. He stopped in his tracks, staring at Clayton as if he’d just seen a ghost.

“Cap!” Hutch said, startled by the unexpected appearance of his superior officer.

“I just saw him, Hutchinson. I just saw him a minute ago. He was being wheeled into the emergency room… He can’t be here… He just can’t…”

“Starsky?” Hutch asked, expectantly.

“Yeah, Starsky. A little while ago, I got a call from the Fourth Precinct. They told me that Starsky has been involved in a traffic accident and that he had been taken here. I told them that it had to be a mistake, because Starsky was already in the hospital. But they insisted, telling me that I should come. I did and… and… Oh, my God…” Dobey was unable to take his eyes off of Starsky’s look-alike.

“Okay, Cap. I don’t have time to figure out what’s going on here. You just make sure that someone keeps this man under custody!” Hutch ordered a stunned-looking Dobey. He dashed out of the room.

Unwilling to wait for the elevator, Hutch rushed downstairs to the first floor where the emergency services were located. Hoping to find Starsky, he headed straight to the restricted section.

“Detective Hutchinson!” Spotting Hutch through one of the large panel windows, the head nurse called out to him. She left the treatment room, intercepting him.

“I know, nurse… I shouldn’t be here,” Hutch said, very aware of the ER rules. “But this time it’s important. Very important. I need to see my partner. It’ll be just a moment, nurse, honest!”

“It’s okay, Detective,” The woman said, to Hutch’s surprise. “I was going to call you anyway. We really could use your help with Detective Starsky.”

“My help? What do you mean? Is Starsky going to be okay?” Hutch asked anxiously. With the nurse by his side, he headed inside the treatment room. Fear, worry for Starsky and the feeling of being confused as ever battling in his mind.

“I’m sorry, detective. It’s too early to make an accurate prognosis on his condition. However, he’s being extremely uncooperative. Detective Starsky keeps saying that you’re in some sort of danger and that he has to warn you.”

“Hushhh? Hush… you ‘kay?” Starsky asked anxiously, as soon as he saw his partner entering the room.

Hutch hurried to Starsky’s side. The curly-haired detective was lying on the examination table, feebly trying to reach for his partner.

“Yeah buddy, I’m okay,” the blond detective said softly. He took Starsky’s hand in his, while with his other hand he stroked his friend’s matted curls.

“I… thought… I thought that you…” Starsky began saying in a slurred voice. His body was starting to relax under Hutch’s soothing touch.

“I’m fine, Starsk… And you’ll be fine too,” Hutch said reassuringly, trying to hide the concern he felt at the sight of Starsky’s battered body and face. “Now you’ve got to let these doctors help you, partner. We’ll talk later, okay?”

“‘Kay…” Starsky said, finally closing his heavy eyelids.

EPILOGUE

Despite the violence of the car crash, Starsky’s condition turned out to be much better than the medical team had initially feared. Between the beating he had endured at the hands of Collasanto’s men and the subsequent impact against the patrol car, he had sustained two cracked ribs, whiplash, and many minor bruises and contusions on his face and body. However, with the proper treatment, a cervical collar, and rest, all of those injuries would heal nicely in a few weeks.

Linda Collasanto had not been so lucky. The woman had had been critically injured in the car crash, suffering a fatal cardiac arrest before the ambulance could take her to the hospital.

As for the third passenger in the Torino, Collasanto’s goon had broken both his legs and two of his ribs. Though none of his wounds were life threatening, he was facing some weeks of recuperation in a penitentiary hospital. On the other hand, the rest of people involved in Collasanto’s plan to get to Lennox, had been as well arrested.

A week after the crash, Starsky had recovered enough to leave the hospital, and Enricco Collasanto’s trial had just started. With Lennox’ testimony, it was looking likely that the mobster would be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

“And what’s going to happen to that guy, Clayton?” Starsky asked as Hutch drove him home from Memorial.

“I’m not sure, Starsky. He’s going to spend some time in prison. After all, the guy was an accessory in an attempted murder - Lennox’s. And in your kidnapping too.”

“Yep… But he changed his mind. And he also tried to help me...” Starsky pointed out with his usual compassion.

“I know, buddy. And we’ll make sure that the district attorney is aware of that.”

“Tell me something, Hutch…” Starsky began to ask.

“Yeah?”

“Was he really a lot like me? I mean like a twin brother, or something?”

“Yep. He sure was… Collasanto’s plastic surgeons did a great work on that guy’s face. Besides, he seemed to be very well trained to play his role. Anyway he didn’t fool me. Not entirely anyway… Deep inside, I knew that something was wrong with him.”

“Admit it, Blondie… That guy fooled you. Completely!” Starsky teased his partner.

“Oh no. Starsk. You’re wrong about that one.” Hutch defended himself. “I knew that something was off about Clayton. And I would’ve figured out what it was very soon, even if he hadn’t spoken up. It was just a matter of time.”

“Yeah… a matter of time.” Starsky kept up the gentle teasing. “Some detective you are, buddy. You don’t even know your own partner well enough to recognize when he’s been replaced with a fake.”

“Know something, Starsky?” Hutch asked, becoming serious. “I did know it. I couldn’t believe it, but somehow I knew that guy wasn’t you. I’m just sorry I didn’t listen to my instincts.”

“Well, never mind. The whole thing has ended happily anyway,” Starsky reassured him. His tone was serious, however, as at that moment he was reminded once again of the loss of his Torino, his most cherished possession. It had been a price Starsky was glad to pay to save Hutch, but even so, its loss hurt him more than he wanted to admit.

“I don’t get it… I mean, how can someone do something like what Clayton did, just for money?” Starsky asked, trying to take his mind off of his wrecked car.

“My point, exactly.” Hutch answered, a mischievous smile curling his lips. The blond one didn’t like the hint of sadness he could hear in Starsky’s voice. It was time to try to lift his partner’s spirits. “I just can’t understand how a guy would be willing to go around wearing your ugly mug, no matter how much money he could get for it.”

“Moron!” Starsky elbowed Hutch in the ribs. “For the record, three new nurses have given me their phone numbers.”

“Oh well, no offence, Starsk, but what ladies find attractive can be very weird,” the blond one countered. He was enjoying the feeling of normalcy that the friendly banter with Starsky gave him.

Then, both men fell into a comfortable silence, until Hutch got closer to Starsky’s place.

“Now, I want you to close your eyes, Starsk. And don’t open them until I tell you to. Got it?”

“You want me to close my eyes?” Starsky asked, taken aback. “What’s this, Hutch? A surprise?”

“Sort of.” The blond one didn’t elaborate further. “Close your eyes, Starsky. No tricks.”

“Oh, come on, Hutch!” Starsky complained, though he was actually enjoying the mystery.

“Close your eyes, buddy. Now.”

“Okay… I’ve closed them,” Starsky said between gritted teeth, almost not opening his lips to speak.

“I said close your eyes, not your mouth, Starsk… I wouldn’t dare ask you to make such a sacrifice,” Hutch joked, pulling the car to a halt.

“You’re a real nice guy, Hutchinson, did ya know that?”

“Listen Starsky, I’m going to get out of the car and come around to get you. Don’t move. And keep your eyes shut.” Having said this, Hutch got out of the battered LTD. He trotted around the hood to the passenger side and helped Starsky out. Then, the blond one covered his friend’s eyes with his hand and, surrounding Starsky’s shoulders with his arm, led him a few feet down the road.

“What’s the matter, Blondie? Have you got a welcome committee ready to sing me a welcome home hymn, which you composed yourself?”

“Well, about the only thing this won’t do is sing…” Hutch removed his hand from Starsky’s eyes.

“Open your eyes, Starsky.”

Starsky did as Hutch asked, and found himself standing inches away from his beloved Torino. The same car which Merle had called to tell him had been too badly damaged to repair. And yet there it was, parked in its usual spot, repaired, clean, and recently waxed - looking better than new!

“My… my car! It’s my car!” Starsky exclaimed, happily. He hurried to open the driver’s door and sit behind the wheel. “I thought… I thought she was damaged beyond repair,” he said, in a choked voice.

Hutch climbed into the passenger seat. “Well, actually she was in very bad shape. It was touch and go for awhile there. Merle had to replace the engine, the windshield and a few other pieces here and there. But with the help of a couple of Huggy’s cousins, he was able to get your Tomato ready just in time.”

“This must have cost you big bucks, Hutch.” Starsky said, gently caressing the dashboard of his beloved car.

“Well, it wasn’t so bad. Merle didn’t want even a single dollar for his work. Huggy helped out. And the whole precinct chipped in to buy the replacement parts,” Hutch explained proudly.

“They did?” Starsky’s voice was hoarse with emotion.

“Oh, sure… It looks like they’ve gotten too used to seeing you driving around in this parade float of yours to give up on it now,” Hutch mocked, fondly.

“Hutch?” Starsky said. He turned to look Hutch in the eye

“Yeah, Starsky?”

“Thanks, partner… Thank you so much.” Starsky pulled his best friend into a strong hug. One of those love-filled hugs that spoke more than words could ever say.

 

THE END

 

 

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