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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

Drag Racing his Way back to the Top


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Special Thanks to Tonya for her great beta work!!! :)
 
 
"Starsky, will you please read Mr. Dunbar his rights now?! We're soaking here!"

Ignoring his partner's angry plea, Detective David Starsky started yet another slow-motion walk around the huge car the suspect, a man in his fifties named Phil Dunbar, had taken cover behind a few moments ago, before the two detectives had been able to convince him of the futility of that action.

As soon as Dunbar had thrown his gun to the ground and stepped away from the car, Hutch had grabbed him and dragged him out of the garage into the pouring rain to handcuff him. The moment the suspect had been under control, Starsky had lowered his gun and turned fully to admire the content of the garage.

"What do you need rights for when you got this parked in y-"

"Starsky!"

"Hutch, this is a 1971 Buick Riviera!"

"Uh," Dunbar said, trying to look around in Hutch's grip, "actually 1970."

Starsky's eyes grew a tad wider. "Wow. This is so cool. Hutch, look at the interior!"

"The engine is-" Dunbar started, but couldn't go on when his air supply was sufficiently shortened by Hutch's tightening grip.

"Will you stop encouraging him!" the blond hissed, before calling to Starsky again. "Starsk! Come on!"

"Yeah, yeah... Just a sec... Uuuhhh, look at that engine!"

"Careful with the hood," Dunbar croaked, but was ignored.

"Starsky!"

"Wha´? Oh, right. Yeah, you, uh, have the right to remain silent, but if you chose to say something instead, you, uh, better watch your language, `cause, uh... Oh my god, is that how fast this baby gets?!"

Hutch rolled his eyes, and shoved Dunbar over to where the Torino was parked at the end of the long driveway. On the way, he informed the man over his actual rights, then opened the door for him.

"D'you understand those rights?" he asked, pure routine.

"Wow, is that a 1974 Ford Torino?"

"Shut up!"

Throwing the door shut behind Dunbar, Hutch marched to the garage again, swearing under his breath. He was soaked to the bones and seeing his very happy, very excited, very dry partner half crawling into the Buick's insides didn't help to improve his mood.

"Starsky!"

"Yeah, yeah," Starsky's muffled voice came from somewhere deep within the car, "I'll be there in a sec, Hutch. Just a mom... Oh, this is SO great!"

"I'm gonna count to three, and then I'll drive back to town and leave you here."

"`Kay, Hutch, see you lat... Ow!" Starsky yelped when the hood connected painfully with his head and back and he jumped away from the car, shooting his partner an accusing glance. "That was my head!"

"Really?" Hutch asked, unimpressed. "Funny, I was aiming for your butt."

Rubbing the back of his head, Starsky frowned sulkily. "That hurt."

"Me more than you," Hutch commented sarcastically and turned, not waiting for his partner.

Starsky followed him slowly, looking back over his shoulder all the time, sighing.

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled from where he stood next to the Torino's passenger door.

"I'm coming!" Starsky picked up his speed and finally got inside his own car, but didn't start the engine before throwing the Buick a long, longing parting look.

Hutch rolled his eyes. "You keep this up, the tomato'll get jealous."

"No," his partner winked, and headed for the street at last, "she knows I would never replace her."

"I had a Torino once," Dunbar said, and Starsky looked at him in the rearview mirror. Hutch occupied himself with searching frantically for a handkerchief.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yep," Dunbar nodded. "Greatest car I ever had. It was my baby. Loved it. I had it waxed every Sunday."

"What happened?" Starsky asked in genuine interest. "Car crash?"

"No, bomb." A sad sigh followed. "Such a shame. I really loved that car."

"Uh, yeah, I understand. Bomb, huh? You get hurt?"

"Huh? Oh, no," Dunbar winked with an amused smile, "no, fortunately I wasn't in it that day. My fifth wife had taken it to go shopping. She knew she wasn't allowed to take the Torino," he added with a shake of his head.

"Oh."

Hutch sneezed.

"Gesundheit," Dunbar said friendly.

"Uh... thanks. Hey, you got a handkerchief?"

 

****

 

"You know," Starsky said when they were back at the precinct, "whenever we ever get that raise in salary, I'm gonna buy me a second car."

"Hm-mm," Hutch muttered without looking up from the report he was working on. "Before or after you pay your bill at Huggy's?"

"Before."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded dreamily. He sat with his feet resting on his desk; staring at a future only he could see. "I wonder how that Riviera today would have looked if someone with a little taste had chosen the spraying."

Hutch rolled his eyes.

"I mean, did you see the color? It's a crime to spray a Riviera plain black! What sort of a color is black, anyway?! No one should be allowed to spray his car black."

"Starsk, please, I'm trying to wri-"

"If we hadn't busted Dunbar for attempt murder, I'd have insisted on arresting him for assaulting a totally innocent car!"

"Stars-"

"Hutchinson! Starsky! In my office! Now!" Dobey's powerful voice echoed through the whole room like one of the trumpets on Judgment Day.

"Thank you, Cap´n," Hutch sighed and shot up from his chair, dragging a still dreamy Starsky to his feet on his way inside his superior's office.

"Cap," Starsky said casually, while Hutch closed the door behind them, "how can we lighten up your day?"

"First of all, you could shut up."

"Oookay," Starsky nodded shortly with a smile and sat down on the chair in the far corner of Dobey's office.

His partner visibly had to restrain himself from crying out loud and instead shot Dobey a glance of utter despair.

"What's with him?" the captain asked, raising his brows at Starsky.

"He met the car of his dreams."

"The 1970 Buick Riviera that looks like a 1971 model and has been worked over by an at-the-moment unknown genius, but belongs to an utterly ungrateful fool who dared to spray it black which isn't even a real color as everyone knows?"

Hutch stared at Dobey, confused. "How d'you-"

"I read the report!" the captain barked, grabbing a paper from his desk, almost crumbling it with the force he used.

"Hey careful," Starsky warned. "I worked all morning on that!"

Hutch closed his eyes. Some days...

"I bet!" Dobey said, looking down on the writing. "There are four pages about a car, Starsky! It doesn't even say the turkey's name!"

"Oh, really? Uhm, guess, I forgo-"

"Did you two really bust a guy because his car was black?!"

Hutch felt like he was listening to a scene on the TV as he massaged his temples and closed his eyes.

"No," Starsky defended himself. "That was the guy who'd ordered the hit on this other guy. Uhm, Hutch, what's his name again?"

When no answer came, Starsky and Dobey looked at the blond who hadn't moved.

"Hutch?"

"Hutchinson, we boring you or what?!"

Hutch didn't open his eyes. "I'm not yet done with counting to ten," he said dryly. "Just a moment."

"Very funny," the other two muttered in unison.

"Phil Dunbar," the blond finally answered and decided to actively join the scenery again.

"Oh," Dobey made and nodded. "I see. Good work."

"Thanks," Starsky grinned. Hutch drew in a deep, calming breath, but had to cough at the attempt.

"You okay?" his partner asked, frowning slightly.

"Guess I caught a cold while standing in the pouring rain all morning, waiting for some-"

"Well, stay away from me," Dobey interrupted him, actually backing away a little behind his desk. "I just got through this thing that my kids brought home from school."

"It's just a *sniff* cold, okay?!"

"Hm. You know, blintz, you really don't look too good," Starsky said, narrowing his eyes as he studied his friend.

"Listen to your partner. Maybe you should take a few days off. I don't want to run the risk of this spreading in the office."

"It's just a cold!" Hutch exclaimed, annoyed. "I'm fine."

"It's this freaky stuff you're eating, you know," Starsky said. "It's not good for your immune system to neglect real food. You never see an old cola bear, right?"

Hutch slumped on his chair, shaking his head helplessly.

"Cola bear?" Dobey asked.

"Yeah, they eat those plants he mixes in his milk every morning," Starsky explained.

When Hutch peeked up, he found Dobey eyeing him with disgusted awe. He opened his mouth to explain, but thought differently and just winked.

Starsky, though, was still rambling about the necessity of normal eating habits. Like his own. "I mean I was there too, and you don't see me coughing out my lungs and my color fading."

"I'm not-" Hutch started, but was cut off by Dobey.

"You know, he may be right, Hutch. I really think it'd be better if you get home and get some decent food. We can manage a few days without y-"

"It's just a cold!" Hutch snapped and actually jumped up from his chair. "Will you both get off my back!!!"

Absolute silence followed. Stunned gazes were fixed on Hutch whose anger was quickly replaced by embarrassment. "Uhm. Uh... Now that we have that, uh, cleared, uhm, maybe you could tell us why you wanted to see us, Cap `n?"

Before Dobey could even get his nod in, Starsky arched his brows. "Gee, Hutch, maybe you really should consider those days off, you're ready to-"

"One more word, Starsk, and I'm gonna blow up your Torino," Hutch cut him off and raised the infamous Hutchinson Finger.

Starsky closed his mouth instantly and shrank back in the chair, all the time watched by Hutch, before the blond seemed satisfied and turned back to Dobey with a questioning look.

The captain quickly fought the grin that had appeared on his face, and settled for serious business talk. "Okay, here's the thing. I just got a call from RD and it looks like they've got something they need you two for. Well, actually they only need you," he added, looking at Starsky, who raised his brows in surprise.

"Me? What for?"

"Yeah," Hutch nodded, frowning. "What would robbery want from Starsk? Last time we came across them, he arrested their cover guy. They hate him."

"Hey!" Starsky exclaimed, offended. "The guy started a fight! I had to arrest him! `Sides you didn't know he was undercover, either! You even read him his rights!"

"But I went to RD to apologize for the mistake afterwards."

About to shoot back another reply, Starsky stopped with his mouth open, then stared blankly at his partner. "Oh. You did?"

"Could we get back to the case here?" Dobey said over Hutch's nod.

"Sure Cap´n," Hutch said innocently, inwardly smiling amusedly at his grumbling friend.

"Good. Well, even though they DO hate you in RD--the both of you, I might add," he said to Hutch. "They require your special talent, Starsky."

A devious grin spread on the dark man's face, but before he could even open his mouth, Dobey's warning finger shot up.

"Swallow the comment. You too," he snapped, the finger flying to point at Hutch, who flinched in mock surprise.

"Wasn't about to say anyth-"

"Keep it that way," Dobey advised, and continued, "we're talking about driving here. That's what they need you for."

"I thought you said 'talent'," Hutch mumbled, but was ignored.

Starsky frowned in confusion. "They need me to drive? What, they all messed with traffic control too?"

"No," Dobey sighed, "they're after a guy called Eric Donnell."

The detectives exchanged a quick glance, but Hutch shook his head no.

"I thought you didn't know him," Dobey remarked. "He's not actually your... class."

"What's that supposed to mean?" they asked in unison, and Dobey fought a smile.

"Let's say he's not a regular at any of the places you two like to frequent."

"What then," Starsky asked ironically, "high society?"

"Exactly."

The wry smile on Starsky's face vanished. "Oh."

"His father is considered one of the richest man in the country. He's a film producer."

"Ah," Hutch nodded, understanding. "I take it Eric's occupation is 'son'."

Dobey nodded. "He's 28, and you wouldn't know him, `cause there are no files on him. Somehow," he added after a short pause, his voice thick with sarcasm, "nothing the kid's ever done was worth filing, you know."

"Lucky pup," Starsky said dryly.

"You can say that again. Eric's a real troublemaker. If it hadn't been for his father, he'd have been in and out of jail half of his life already."

"Somehow I think if it wasn't for his father, he wouldn't be that way, anyway," Hutch said, though it sounded as if he was talking to himself.

Dobey shot him a glance. "Maybe. Anyway, this time robbery thinks they can finally nail him down. He's into something too big for him this time."

"The west end bank robberies," Hutch said.

"How d'you know?" Dobey asked, surprised.

The blond shrugged. "Easy. Just figured that RD has to be really desperate if they ask for our help, and this thing is starting to break their necks."

"Yeah," his partner nodded, his own memory switching on now, "they're on that for quite some time now, aren't they? I think I read the first article `bout that months ago. And they think this rich guy has something to do with that? Is that logical?"

"Probably a very serious case of boredom," Hutch said, and then looked at Dobey again. "They think it's a group of upper class kids?"

"Yep," the captain nodded. "And, Hutch, please no speech about the decline of the higher classes now, okay? I had to listen to that crap all morning when I talked to the head of Robbery Department."

Hutch backed away on his chair indignantly, but remained silent.

An amused grin crossed his partner's lips, but it vanished the second he felt Hutch's gaze upon himself. "Uhm, okay so there's the declined breed robbing banks for fun. I understand that. What I don't get is how we fit into that."

"Well," Dobey started to explain, he too having to stifle a smile at Hutch's sulking expression. "This group of 'sons' has a very expensive hobby that actually is the only open way into it."

"Drag Racing," Starsky said, the lights almost visibly going on inside his head.

"Right."

"Oh, hey, wait a minute," Hutch exclaimed excitedly, "they want Starsky to sneak inside this group through drag racing?!"

"Yes. They have prepared an apartment for your cover and a fake identity."

Hutch eyed him suspiciously. "Why do I get the feeling somebody else was meant to do the job?"

The captain's gaze dropped. He suddenly seemed to be very busy shoving around sheets of papers on his desk. "Uhm... They had a guy for it, actually the one you arrested back then."

"And?" Hutch pressed.

"He had some sort of an... accident. He wanted to practice before joining the first race, and he crashed into a fence. He's alive, but in the hospital."

Hutch stared at him with absolutely no expression on his face. "That was such a comforting story, Cap´n."

"You asked. Besides, I don't know what you're so excited about. You two are undercover cops and this is an undercover assignment."

"A very dange-" Hutch started, but stopped, when he heard a dreamy voice next to him. Both he and Dobey slowly turned their heads to look at Starsky, whose smile had taken on a grateful expression.

"A drag race. Wow! I always wanted to drive in a real drag race!"

While Hutch's face fell in unnerved resignation, Dobey cast him a triumphant grin. "I think that's a 'yes' on your partner's side, Hutch."

"I still think it's a bad idea," the blond insisted, his gaze still focused on Starsky. "And why the hell do they want Starsky of all people?! Just because he has a car that looks like it was made for drag races doesn't mean he can actually drive them."

"Of course I can!" his partner replied, the insult dragging him out of his daydream. "We used to drag outside the city when I was younger. Okay, they were those old, rusty cars we had back then, but it wasn't that different. Just that the cars didn't look so cool," he continued rambling, not even aware that Dobey and Hutch were eyeing him with awe. "I drove my uncle's car one time, I think it was a... What're you looking at?"

"You raced races in the desert?" Hutch asked, the surprise at finding out something about his partner he hadn't already known evident in his voice.

"Yep."

"That's totally illegal."

Dobey almost burst with laughter at the stunned innocence of Hutch's tone.

Starsky, though, just looked at his friend. "Really? Wow, am I glad I didn't know that back then. Would have missed all the fun."

Before Hutch had the chance to get a real interrogation started, Dobey turned to Starsky. "So you could drive with real cracks? Truth, Starsky," he added, again raising his finger. "I don't want to have to scrape your butt off the concrete in a week."

It was obvious that Starsky chose his words carefully. He really wanted to do the job. "Of course I haven't done it for quite some time, but yes, I'm sure I could. You'd be surprised," he added, getting excited again, "I might even win a few times."

"Just don't kill anyone," Dobey said dryly, waving his hand in a 'slow down'-gesture. "That's all I ask for."

"And when he really manages to connect?" Hutch asked, his thoughts back on the case, though Starsky knew he'd get some serious words from his partner later. "What then?"

"Then we'll see," Dobey said. "You'll be on the operating team as Starsky's contact. They put together a team of three for this case a while back, so I guess you'll be in on the planning."

"Okay," Hutch nodded.

"So all I gotta do is drive cool cars and look good?" Starsky asked happily.

"We don't want to be too demanding," Dobey said seriously. "Just drive the cars."

"I love this job!"

Both Hutch and Dobey had to grin at the fact that he hadn't even heard the insult.

"Okay, I'll see you both at Chester Street tomorrow at seven," Dobey said and the detectives stood to leave. The garage on Chester Street was the secret supply building for the BCPD's undercover equipment.

"And Starsky," Dobey called after them, when they were already half outside.

"Yes, Cap?"

"No practicing."

The detective just winked with a smile and closed the door. Dobey stared at it in disbelief.

"He's really looking forward to this," he muttered to himself and shook his head.

 

****

 

As always, when they had been informed about a new undercover assignment starting, Starsky and Hutch had the rest of the day off and decided to get a very late breakfast at Huggy's.

The car of the day was still the Torino, and Hutch couldn't help constantly eyeing his partner driving.

"Hutch, stop it."

"Stop what?" Hutch asked innocently.

"I'm serious, you look at me one more time, I'm gonna pull over and kick you out."

"You're my friend," Hutch defended himself with a shrug, "I like looking at y... Okay, that didn't come out like I'd planned it."

"I hope," Starsky tried to say with indignant bewilderment, but couldn't quite stifle a chuckle.

"It's just that... Did you really race when you were a kid?"

"Hutch, it's no big deal! Everybody did it."

"How old were you?"

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know, maybe 15 or so. Just a kid. I didn't even have a driver's license."

The blond's eyes grew wide. "15?! D'you know what could have happen-"

"Hutch!" Starsky couldn't help laugh. "You're acting like it happened yesterday or somethin´. We were just kids goofin´ around, okay? Nothing ever happened. And yes, I know that's just luck and yes, we could have gotten hurt--or worse," he added quickly, when he saw Hutch trying to get a comment in. "But we didn't. We were dumb and lucky."

Hutch snorted slightly, but remained silent. He knew that his partner was right of course, but it frustrated him to not be able to verbalize his shock about this latest discovery.

Knowing his friend well enough to know exactly what Hutch was thinking, the dark man sighed, deciding to let him have his way. It didn't matter, anyway, Starsky figured, for he'd have to listen to Hutch's thoughts about the upper class robbers later on too. There'd be no escape then, so why not get the whole thing started right now? They might even be through with it before arriving at Huggy's and he might get a peaceful breakfast after all.

So he shot Hutch a quick glance and said, "Besides, I was into things that were more dangerous back in New York."

"Yeah, I know," Hutch sighed. It was the truth, he really knew. "But it's just so... frustrating! Thinking about what sort of reckless stuff kids do. Don't you ever feel that way? Like how irresponsible you can be about your own life?! Kids never look at their life as a whole; they always think they're immortal. Every decision they make is just for the moment, never for-"

"Am I still talking to the same Ken Hutchinson who started smoking with 13?"

Hutch froze. An expression rushed over his features that looked like regret about having supplied his partner with too much information for a discussion like this. "That was different. I was sort of... rebelling against my parents. All kids do that."

"Uh-huh. Is that why you had to do it in secret?"

"First of all, buddy, that was the last time I ever tell you anything about myself. And secondly, my parents would have killed me if they'd found out!"

Starsky nodded in mock earnest. "Hutchinson Logic."

"I quit when I was 16!" Hutch exclaimed in self-defense.

"You smoked when I met you."

"So I started again when I was an adult. But when I was a kid, I was-"

"Rebelling against your parents," Starsky said in mock earnest, as if it was the dumbest lie he'd ever heard.

"Yes! Did you never do that?!"

"Nope. I was too busy living for the moment and not caring that I was mortal and still had a life to live and-"

"Oh, shut up," Hutch muttered, defeated.

"I'm sorry. D'you wanna hold this 'decline of the upper class'-speech now?" Starsky offered sympathetically.

Hutch shot him an angry look, but at the sparkling in the midnight blues, he winked, playing along. "No, I don't feel like being wise right now. Maybe later."

"Just call and I'll listen," Starsky joked.

"Don't push it, Starsk," Hutch warned dryly, "I might do that."

 

****

 

The next day, Hutch collected his partner at six thirty, and to his utter surprise, Starsky was already waiting for him outside, and jumped inside the battered LTD before Hutch had even stopped.

"Good morning!" he greeted Hutch with a happy grin.

"Who are you and what have you done to my partner?"

"You're not grumpy today, are you?" Starsky asked a little disappointed like a kid whose parents were in a bad mood on the first day of a camping trip.

Hutch couldn't help smiling at that. "Hey, partner, next to you the sun would look grumpy. You're really looking forward to doing this, huh?"

"You bet! I can't wait to see what car RD chose for this!"

A short pause followed, and Hutch eyed his partner carefully. He had a bad feeling about the whole assignment, but didn't know how to talk to Starsky about it. He didn't want to spoil his friend's fun, but then it wasn't fun, anyway. It was a job. A dangerous one.

Maybe it's just him being so excited that bugs me, he thought. But then I know Starsky's too good a cop to let his thing for cars influence him on a job. So what the hell's the matter with you, Hutchinson?!

"Y-you still think it's a good idea, doing this?" he asked unsurely.

The smile on Starsky's face vanished abruptly.

Damn. Shoulda known he'd look right through me.

"Why, don't you?" his partner asked, anger waiting at the edges of his words.

"I'm not sure. I have a strange feeling about this."

Starsky watched him silently. If not always, they both took feelings about cases seriously from time to time. Though usually their own more than the other's.

"I don't know," Hutch continued, winking. "Maybe it's just that you'll be on your own. I don't like it that I won't be there when you... race."

That was an argument Starsky understood. He knew he'd have felt the same way. "Hey, blintz, I'll be okay," he said in a gentle voice and brushed Hutch's shoulder lightly. "No need to worry."

"Easy for you to say," Hutch replied, half-joking. Having his say had been the important thing. He knew he'd unconsciously said the truth; they both never liked it when the other one was working a case alone. "But I've been sitting in the passenger seat fearing for my life for years now and-"

"Oh so that's it!" Starsky exclaimed, and an actual doubt could be heard through his otherwise joking words. "You think I'm not up to this, don't you?! You think I'm not a good enough driver!"

"For a drag race?!" Hutch asked sarcastically in mock disbelief. "You kidding me? No speed limits, no stop signs, no traffic lights, no arrows, no-"

"Okay, okay, I think I got your point now! Jeez."

Hutch briefly lifted his hands off the wheel in a half shrug. "I'm sorry, partner, but your driving style is sort of-"

"Hutch! Watch the street!!!"

Squeezing brakes brought the LTD to a very sudden halt. The detectives were violently thrown forward and back in their seats. Hutch's knuckle had turned as white as his face from their tight grip on the wheel. His breath came in short, quick gasps, and he was trembling slightly. Staring ahead with wide eyes he saw--nothing. They'd been the only cars on the small side street since they'd gotten onto it.

"Wh-what?!" he stammered after a split second of utter confusion.

"What 'what'?" his friend asked innocently. He looked calm. "It's always good advice to watch the street. Now get moving, blintz, before anyone sees you parking here. I think that's totally illegal."

If his partner hadn't been shaken to the bone, Starsky would have to fear for his life now, he thought, and patted the blond's shoulder assuringly. "Everything's clear in front, you can drive on."

"Y-y-you..."

Starsky raised his brows questioningly, but Hutch only winked and started the engine again.

"I'm impressed, by the way," the darker man broke the silence after a few miles. "Didn't think this pathetic collection of rusty metal pieces would survive a stunt like tha-"

"Don't push it, Starsky," Hutch cut him off sharply. "Don't push it!"

 

****

 

At the garage on Chester Street, they were greeted by Captain Dobey and the head of the RD team that was working on the Donnell case, Detective Gary Kellerman. He was a friendly looking man in his early forties, and neither Starsky nor Hutch knew him from their previous encounter with the robbery department.

It turned out he'd been transferred to the department from Chicago only a few weeks ago, but had had experiences with groups like the Donnell one and therefore was now leading the operation.

Exchanging a relieved glance, the detectives greeted him warmly, and then listened to his explanation of how he wanted Starsky to meet Donnell.

The cover story would be an easy one. He'd just give a nickname at first, like all the kids did, and never let there be any doubt about him being just like them. A son.

"Your cover name is Spencer Keyes, and your family is from Europe. Doesn't matter as long as it's as far away from here as possible. There's always the danger of them knowing important people in other states, but Europe is relatively safe. Just don't pick Sicily."

Starsky laughed amusedly. "Don't worry. How `bout Russia?"

"Well, at least they're gonna like your humor," Kellerman replied dryly, and Hutch chuckled.

"What about this nickname?" Starsky asked for more information and advises.

Kellerman shrugged. "That's up to you, David. Think of something cool."

"Oh great," Hutch muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes at Starsky's enthusiastic nod.

"Okay, I think that'd be all for now. Here's the key to the apartment. We installed hidden cameras everywhere. It'd be great if you could get a few of the guys in there some time. They don't often meet at their own places, but at least try."

Starsky nodded fiercely, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

Gary smiled slightly. "You wanna see the car now?"

"I thought you'd never ask!"

Laughing, the RD detective mentioned them to follow him inside the garage and to the car his department had chosen for the operation.

"I've been told they had some freaks working on it for days. They ordered me to tell you that if their baby has so much as a scratch on it when you return it, you're a dead man."

Starsky wasn't listening. He was staring. Savoring the sight. Hutch, standing a little behind, was amazed at how wide those cobalt blue eyes could actually get.

"Oh my god, Hutch, look at this!"

"It's hard to avoid," Hutch commented and turned to exchange a look with Dobey who stepped next to him, his gruff expression hardly able to hide his amusement. Hutch couldn't help thinking that it looked as if the captain had been looking forward to this moment all day.

Kellerman stood on the other side of the car, smiling wryly at the other man's reaction.

"This is incredible! This is heaven, Christmas and a chocolate shake all wrapped up in one huge burrito!"

Now Dobey chuckled in earnest.

"This is-"

"A shiny green car," Hutch interrupted his obviously insane partner dryly, much to Kellerman's amusement. It was obvious that the detective was starting to like his colleagues.

"Hutch!" Starsky replied in dismay. "This is a `67 GTO!"

"Okay, an old shiny green car. With a white stripe on it. Did you have to get him one with a stripe?!" he called over to Kellerman, who shrugged apologetically, though he didn't understand the comment.

In the meantime, Starsky had opened the hood. "Oh look at this! Look at this! I think I'm in love!"

"You kiss that thing, I'm outta here."

Throwing his partner a disbelieving glance, Starsky closed the hood again, shaking his head. "How can you stand there and not go totally nuts about this piece of art?!"

"I try to stay away from that inner switch that connects the brain to-"

"Gna, gna, gna," Starsky cut him off, and stepped over to him and Dobey, his eyes sparkling with child-like joy. There was no way to look at him and not have pure affection warming your insides, Hutch thought with amazement.

"Cap, if I bust those kids, can I keep the car?"

"No," Dobey replied over Kellerman's laughter, "but if you stop drooling on the equipment, maybe I let you keep your badge."

"Here's the key," Kellerman interrupted the scene and let it fall into Starsky's hand. "Maybe you should drive a few rounds with it before starting the action tonight."

"You bet I will!"

"He meant for practice, Gordo."

"And I mean to have fun practicing," Starsky grinned.

"Okay, I guess there's nothing wrong with that," Gary smiled. "Last thing--your clothes."

The smaller man's grin faded as he looked down on himself. "What about my clothes?"

"They don't... match the car," Kellerman explained carefully.

Hutch did his best to stifle his laughter at Starsky's dismayed expression. Turning around slightly he noticed that Dobey had bowed his head, obviously fighting the same fight.

"Uhm..."

"Don't worry, everything you'll need is at the apartment," Kellerman informed him. "I just wanted it to be clear, that you are to wear whatever you find there. No excuses. I know that they fit."

A dreadful frown settled on Starsky's face. "Why do I get the feeling I won't like what I'll find?"

"`cause you won't. Any more questions?"

"Nope."

"Good. Well then, good luck, David. See you later, Hutch."

"Bye, Gary."

Mumbling his muffled goodbyes through his chuckles, Dobey followed Kellerman outside, leaving the two detectives alone in the garage.

"Soooo..." Starsky said, stretching the word as if thinking. "How `bout a little race?"

Hutch rolled his eyes, but at his friend's laughter couldn't help joining him.

"Well, better get this baby on the road before she gets bored," Starsky finally said, grinning at the car over his shoulder, before turning back to Hutch, who cast him a serious look.

"Be careful, buddy, you hear."

"Hey," Starsky said in mock seriousness, "you heard the man, I oughta look out for the RD's baby, otherwise I'm toast."

"I'm more concerned about you."

"Hutch, this is not the first time I go undercover. You know I'll be careful. `Sides I got you to watch my back for me."

Hutch sighed with a smile, and then nodded, joking. "Yeah, I've to admit I am glad I don't have to sit in that car with you, Speedy Spencer."

"Hardy harr harr," Starsky remarked and checked his watch. "`Kay, I'm off now. See you tonight, partner."

"Yeah, see you later," Hutch winked and turned to leave too, but was held back by Starsky's voice.

"Hey Hutch."

"What?" Hutch asked, looking back to Starsky, who was already half inside the GTO.

"That'd make for a great nickname."

Hutch frowned, lifting his hands in a helpless gesture.

"Speedy," Starsky explained and looked heavenwards as if listening to the echo. "I like that."

With that, he entered the car and drove off, passed Hutch, with a speed that confirmed his newly chosen nickname.

"I bet you do," Hutch muttered under his breath, shaking his head. Just be careful, buddy. Please be careful.

****

Kellerman had been right; Starsky absolutely detested the clothes RD had laid out for him in the apartment. Which he hated too. But then he figured he'd sleep in a hole in the ground wrapped in paper for getting to drive a `67 GTO.

He'd found it almost hard to finally drive to the apartment and change some time around noon. The plan said he should start the actual operation around two, so if he hurried, he had a little more time for cruising around.

Therefore, he decided against calling Hutch to moan and whine about the clothes, the place and the absence of food in it, but just changed and got into the car again.

The temptation of looking for some forlorn area to check the car's racing speed was huge, but he didn't want to run the risk of missing Donnell and blow the very first day of his assignment. Therefore, he'd settled for driving aimlessly around in the wide area of Donnell's neighborhood for the rest of the time. If this drew attention towards him, it'd be even a better thing.

At proximately two o'clock, he sped up a little, thereby breaking the speed limit, and drove sharply around the corner that led to Eric Donnell's drive-way.

It was pure luck, he knew, but at that exact moment, a red Ferrari emerged from behind a huge bush at the side of the driveway. It would have hit the GTO's front if it hadn't been for Starsky's quick reflexes.

Both cars came to a halt with squealing brakes, and after a second, the driver of the Ferrari stepped out of his car casually, shifting his sunglasses on his nose. He had the look money could buy and the natural attractiveness to not really need them. Thick light brown hair fell straight over his ears and covered most of his neck. A white stray that started somewhere in his long ponytail and ended over his left eye stood out clearly.

With a casual gesture, he shoved his sunglasses back down on his nose and peeked over them at the GTO for a second, then pushed them back up with his index finger.

Starsky drew in a deep breath, and pushed the door open. Showtime.

He let his gaze wander over the front of his car, then glanced at the other man disgustedly.

No one said a word, and Starsky wondered if maybe this was some sort of coolness test. Like 'who blinks first'.

But then who cared?

"Nice car," he said tonelessly, looking directly at the eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. "Pity you can't drive it."

With that, he slowly turned to stroll back to the GTO.

"Hey, smart ass, where're you from?" the younger man asked, his voice a tad too high for his auther appearance, but strangely melodically. He probably was a good singer.

"Who wants to know?" Starsky asked without looking back or stopping.

"Well, if you're from here," the man said, "you'd know who I am."

Starsky had arrived at the driver's door and opened it, looking over it to say "Seems like I'm not from here then, huh?" and got inside the car, slamming the door shut.

"If you're from here," the Ferrari driver added, walking over to the GTO, to place a hand on the edge of the open window at Starsky's side, "you'd also know that this is my drive-way. And no one gets in the way of my drive-way."

Starsky sighed as if bored and looked up at him with a wry smile. "The way you drive that doesn't surprise me."

The younger man looked down at him for a split second, then grinned widely. "What's your name, pal?"

"Spencer."

"Don," Eric Donnell introduced himself, taking his hand away from the window. "The Don for everyone who's not my friend."

"Well, The Don, `twas nice meeting you." Starsky bent slightly forward to turn the key.

"Hey, wait, pally. You can't just almost drive into me and then get away with it like that."

"Oh no? Watch me."

"No, no, no, it's not gonna be that easy," Donnell said, his gaze wandering over the car as a whole, slowly, like he knew the other man wouldn't just drive away. It was a game, they played, and they both knew it.

"This is a nice little vehicle you have here, Spencer. Very nice indeed."

"You start drooling on my hood, I'll make you eat the Ferrari piece by piece, you got that, kiddo?"

Donnell's head snapped to his side, and though the anger in his eyes couldn't be seen through the sunglasses, it was apparent on his entire face. After a split second, though, he laughed.

"You're funny. I like that."

"Glad you're having fun. And if you'd get that import over there out of the way now, I'd be grateful."

Slowly, Donnell took off his sunglasses and squinted his eyes against the sun for a moment, his chocolate brown eyes meeting cobalt blues. "How `bout a little race?" he asked. "Let's say three blocks. Four."

Starsky looked away as if thinking, then at the Ferrari, then back at Donnell. "Sorry," he finally said, "but I don't race with reds."

Donnell grinned arrogantly at that. "Not with reds or not with winners?"

The detective let a short pause occur, before saying, "Four blocks, huh?"

The younger man grinned triumphantly, excitement starting to kick in. "Five hundred?" he asked.

Starsky looked at him with no emotion whatsoever visible in his eyes. "You wanna drop by a bank on the way or somethin´? Grand least."

Dobey's gonna kill me.

The grin on the young face even widened. "You got it, pal. One grand. Four blocks. No excuses."

"Excuses?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah, like kids running on the street or other cars being in the way or stuff. Excuses. You never race in cities, man?"

Starsky arched his lips to a dry smile. "Where I come from, that's understood."

Watching Donnell hurry back to his car with some mumbled words, the detective grinned satisfied with himself.

It took a few minutes to get their cars next to one another on the narrow street, then they looked at each other, counting to three inwardly and drove off.

Starsky really wished he'd done that practicing before.

Of course, the Ferrari was faster at first, but quickly, due to the street's outfit, the GTO caught up with it. From time to time, both drivers would throw a side-glance at the other one, but most of the time they had to concentrate on the street, because the 'excuses' were many.

Driving around a few cars heading his way, because he was on the wrong side of the street, Starsky held his breath. He wasn't going faster than he would be in the Torino if he were chasing a suspect right now, but the knowledge that he could speed up considerably was somewhat unnerving.

He stepped on the gas racing past a red traffic light, and flew past the cars that slowly rolled over the line but stopped in fright at the sight of the two racing cars.

Throwing a brief look in the rearview mirror, Starsky grimaced slightly.

Hutch is going to kill me.

Suddenly he noticed that the Ferrari wasn't at his side anymore. Checking the rearview mirror once more, he found the striking redness driving on again after having to stop for a child crossing the street. Donnell hadn't been able to drive around the child without crashing into the GTO.

Turning his head forward again, Starsky saw the last block. He changed the side of the street, driving in front of the Ferrari now, blocking its way, as other cars drove past them in the other direction.

And then there it was. A parked car just at the end of the last block that was parked on the street, narrowing it so that two cars would never fit through at the same time. The flood of cars from the other side seemed endless, with only minute gaps between them.

It was only when he was behind the parked car that Starsky noticed he'd not slowed down even a bit. Instinctively, he stared at the other cars, and managed to turn the steering wheel just in time to race past a car driving by, with inches between the front of the GTO and the back of the other car. Before the following car could crash into him, he was across the street and came to a halt with squealing brakes, parking at the end of the last block.

It took the Ferrari a few minutes to repeat that maneuver, but seeing how incredibly dangerous, reckless and all in all plain stupid it looked, Starsky had to swallow dryly.

I'm never gonna hear the end of this. Oh boy, Hutch is so going to kill me!

The Ferrari rolled past him, Donnell's head appearing in the window. A mixture of awe, anger and pure admiration rushed over his face. His eyes were once more hidden by the sunglasses.

It occurred to Starsky only then that he'd won the race. I beat a Ferrari! Oh my god, I beat a Ferrari! Hutch is not going to belie... Well, of course he's not going to believe this, Davey, because you're not going to tell him you raced a Ferrari through work day traffic, are you?!

He remained inside the GTO and watched Donnell approach him, anger weighting his steps. "Good race," he announced once Starsky had lowered his window.

"Yep," Starsky nodded, trying his best to look self-confident and not the least surprised at having just won against a Ferrari.

Looking over his shoulder, Donnell sighed. Slowly it became obvious that he was majorly pissed. "Gee, traffic's murder today, huh?"

"No excuses," Starsky said mockingly.

Donnell shot him an angry look and produced a few bills from his pocket. "I always pay my debts," he said.

"That's an honorable habit," Starsky commented and took the money with seemingly no interest in it at all. He stashed the bills in the pocket of his jacket, then looked back at Donnell. "Well, Donny, it was nice racing you. See y-"

"Hey wait, you'll give me the chance to win it back, won't you?"

Starsky sighed, annoyed, and Donnell quickly added, "Not now, of course."

That had to raise Spencer Keyes´ interest, and so Starsky lifted his head a little, casting the younger man a questioning look.

"How `bout midnight?"

"Where?"

"A few miles east outside city. There's an old ranch, you can't miss it."

"Ranch?" Starsky asked doubtfully, but Donnell grinned. "You'll like it. Trust me."

Shrugging his okay, the detective started the engine, making Donnell jump away from the window. "See you tonight then, Donny."

With that, he drove off, leaving a decidedly pissed looking, Don, Eric Donnell behind.

 

****

 

"So you just showed up with the striped avocado and-"

"Why do I always drive striped vegetable when you're talking?!"

Hutch ignored his partner's half-hearted outburst and continued, "...and he invited you to a race tonight. Just like that." He snapped his fingers.

"Uh... yes."

The blond stopped pacing in the narrow space between the coffee table and the TV in Spencer Keyes´ apartment and cast his partner a long look, before shaking his head as if disappointed. "That's the dumbest lie you've ever told. And you're only making it worse, you know. Now I have to think about what could have been such a decidedly wrong thing to do that you're afraid to tell me about it."

From where he sat on the white, uncomfortable couch, Starsky let his gaze drift off as if trying to inwardly crawl his way through the construction of words Hutch had just poured down on him.

"It wasn't wrong," he finally said, but his gaze dropped instantly as if his eyes didn't want to be part of the lie. "Not very," he added in a child-like tone.

"Starsk," Hutch sighed, adapting the child-adult-situation with his voice, "you're undercover, I understand that you have to do things you normally wouldn't do. Well, hopefully. Anyway, I also need to know what exactly you're doing to give me a picture of the situation. It's great that you made a connection so fast, but to be able to get to know Donnell from the far, we, back in the Planning Department need all the information you can supply u-"

"I raced him, will you stop rambling now?! Jeez!"

Hutch was silent for a second, before slowly sitting down on the couch next to his partner who avoided looking at him. "Raced him," he repeated as if merely interested. "I thought you were to race him tonight."

"That's the return match."

"I see."

"I won," Starsky exclaimed, but his happiness was short lived when he was met with his friend's piercing look.

"Congratulations," Hutch said dryly.

"Thanks," the smaller man muttered and actually slid a little farther away from his partner. "He drives a red Ferrari, worked on, though I doubt he does it himself-"

"I know what kind of car he drives," Hutch interrupted him. "And I know that there's no way that thing out there could possibly beat a Ferrari on a track. So the question is, where did you race?"

"You promise you won't yell at me?"

"No."

"Oh. Then why would I want to tell you?"

"Because if you don't," Hutch said dreadfully, bending over to his partner slightly, "I'd have to assume that you drove that race then and there, meaning IN the city, in work day traffic, with two cars driving next to each other on a TWO-WAY STREET!"

"Hey, you don't have to yell at me even before I've told you," Starsky joked nervously, and stood up from the couch to get to the other side of the table, as if wanting something between him and Hutch.

"Oh God, Starsk, tell me that's not the truth. I swear I'm gonna have a heart-attack here and now if-"

"You're not making it very easy to tell you the truth, Hutch, you know that?"

"This isn't funny!" Hutch shot back, finally yelling in earnest. "When I said 'be careful' I didn't mean 'go get yourself crashed into a row of oncoming traffic by a Ferrari'!"

"That is not what happened. I was carefu..." Starsky started, but found he couldn't lie at Hutch straight face. "I connected, and that's the only thing that's important."

Hutch snorted, pinching his nose with his thumb and middle finger.

"No one got hurt," Starsky, continued to explain. "I had everything under control. You know I wouldn't hurt innocent bystanders, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know," Hutch, said, having calmed down, and looked up at his friend. "And that was the only way?"

Starsky shrugged a helpless 'yes'.

"Mm," the blond grunted, then stood, and headed for the kitchen. "Don't you do that again! Got that?"

Starsky grimaced. "Don't worry."

From that tone, Hutch stopped in his tracks, concern narrowing his eyes. "You sure you okay?"

"I told you no one got hurt."

"Right," Hutch said after a pause, and continued on his way.

"Hey," Starsky called after him, switching on the TV, "you bring any food?"

"Who am I, delivery? You're rich now. Buy your own food."

"Gna, gna, gna," Starsky muttered under his breath and followed Hutch inside the kitchen. It was as white as the whole apartment. "I'm starving," he whined and frowned at Hutch, who seemed lost in thought.

"You would think they plan to use this place for an operating room," he commented, opened a cabinet, peeked inside, and closed it again. "It's white on the inside. How can you live here?"

"Hutch, I've been here as long as you have. I don't live here."

"How can anyone live here?" Hutch asked with genuine disgust, looking at Starsky in bewilderment as if he expected an answer from him. "I hate this place."

"Well, me too, but-"

"I gotta get outta here," the blond decided and marched past his stunned partner towards the door.

"Hutch?"

"I'll see you tonight, before the race, Starsk. And stay away from crowded streets."

With that, he left, shuddering one last time when the white door fell shut behind him.

"`Triffic," Starsky muttered, looking around in the white kitchen. "Now I'm starving and bored."

It didn't take him long to let his gaze drift outside the window and over to where the 'striped avocado' was parked.

"Hmmm..."

 

****

 

"David, stop touching it!"

"But it itches!"

"Starsky, keep your hands off it!"

"But, Cap..."

Hutch shook his head at the scene before him as he returned from the kitchen and placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of Gary Kellerman, before sitting down on the couch with his own cup. Leaning back comfortably as he watched his two superiors, one after the other, swat Starsky's hands away from the small mike that was plastered to his chest and back and then would later be connected to a small recorder already hidden in the GTO.

The curly haired detective stood with his back to Kellerman, who was still busy flattening out duct tape on Starsky's lower neck, looked so utterly miserable that Hutch grimaced in sympathy.

"How am I supposed to drive with this stuff all over me?"

"Just think of something else," Kellerman advised, uninterested, then stepped back to double-check his work. "Okay, put a shirt on."

"Yes, sir," Starsky muttered grumpily and struggled to get into yet another uncomfortable shirt from Spencer Keyes´ collection.

Hutch stifled a laugh. "You look great, partner."

"Oh shut up," Starsky replied, throwing a crumbled piece of paper at his partner. With a little splash, it fell right into the coffee cup Hutch was holding.

"Starsk!"

"Serves you right," Starsky said, while getting his shoulders into a more comfortable position in the tight pink shirt. "`Sides, now there's a spot on the couch. Next time you get an attack of white-noia, you can look at it for comfort."

"Hey careful with that furniture," Dobey barked. "You're not the one who'll have to pay for it!"

"And you are?" Starsky shot back.

Behind him, Gary Kellerman briefly pinched the back of his nose as if to fight back a headache, then turned the detective around by his arms to see if the mike was hidden sufficiently under the shirt.

"Gary, do I have to wear this?! It's pink!"

Shooting the only person in the room he considered at least somewhere near normal a helpless look, Kellerman found the blond detective fishing the paper out of his coffee cup. Then looking around for a place to put it without success, he let it fall back into the cup with a shrug.

Sighing, Gary then let his gaze wander back to the miserable looking detective in front of him and nodded curtly. "Yes."

"Crap," Starsky commented like a little boy seeing a Sunday morning-suit, then slowly shuffled over the thick carpet to the couch, where he sat down next to his friend, taking the cup out if his hand to take a sip. Frowning at the paper in it, he fished it out, looked around and let it fall back into the cup again.

Kellerman wiped his tired eyes and mentioned for Dobey to sit down too, before starting, "First of all, I have to say I'm impressed. You've been on this thing for like a minute now and have already achieved more than RD has in months."

He paused, as if thinking, and added, "If you tell anyone I said this, I'll deny it."

"Understood," Starsky and Hutch replied in unison.

"`Kay, now--Dave, leave that mike alone!"

"It's itching!"

Again, Kellerman sighed, throwing Dobey a glance, but the captain was staring outside at the GTO, absent-mindedly.

"What we want to find out tonight is who exactly belongs to the inner circle of "The Don", the RD detective then continued. "Don't change your tactics or anything, you're doing perfectly fine. Let Donnell come to you, not the other way around. I think you got him with that stunt this morning, and maybe he'll get excited enough to make a mistake. Well," he said, checking his watch, "we better get going back to the precinct now. Any questions?"

Starsky shook his head no, and Kellerman nodded, satisfied. "Good." When they all arrived at the front door, he turned again, before opening it. "You'll be on your own out there tonight, David. Be careful, okay?"

"Don't worry, your car's in safe hands," Starsky replied.

Smiling wryly, Kellerman nodded his goodbyes and left, followed by Dobey who only turned to cast Starsky a concerned look.

"You really know what you're doing, don't you?"

"`course I do," Starsky replied with a shrug.

Sighing as if he'd just heard a lie, the captain turned and walked after Kellerman, leaving a stunned Starsky behind.

"What's with him?" he asked when he got inside the house again, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder.

Hutch, who leaned on the doorframe to the living room, raised his shoulders innocently. "Oh, nothing. Just read the information file today. Guess that sort of caught him off guard."

"Information file?"

"Yeah, you know, about drag races. RD has this collection of articles and statistics and all about drag races."

"Oh. Really?" Starsky asked flatly.

"Uh huh," Hutch nodded nonchalantly. "It's three inches thick."

Starsky turned, a boyish expression on his face, then walked past his friend to collect the coffee cups from the living room and carry them to the kitchen, starting to wash them.

Hutch watched him with an amused shake of his head, before following him with a casual stroll and sitting down on top of the breakfast bar. "You sure you don't want me out there with you tonight?"

"No," Starsky snapped, whirling around to shoot Hutch a glance and splashing water over his shoes, but ignored it, "I don't! And be warned, Blondie, I see that rusty fly-catcher of yours anywhere near there, I'll drive right into it! We both don't know the area, Hutch. It's too risky, and you know it."

"Okay, okay." Hutch lifted his hands in a self-defending manner. "Just thought I'd ask."

Watching his partner dry the cups and neatly put them away, he tilted his head to one side with an almost accusing look on his face. "You like this place, don't you?"

"What'd make you think that?!" Starsky asked in genuine surprise, stopping in his tracks.

"Look around," Hutch replied, throwing his arms to his side in a big gesture. "It's completely white! A neat freak's heaven!" Before Starsky could even work out a retort, he slid off of the bar again, patting his friend's shoulder when walking past him. "Call me after the race tonight, okay?"

"Hutch," Starsky called after him, "I don't know when I'll be ho-"

"Call me," Hutch cut him off, and Starsky heard the door fall shut behind him.

 

****

 

Donnell had been right, the place was easy to find. A rusty sign at the side of the road outside the city showed the way to the "Redley Ranch". Beneath the dust caked letters, the addition "Bed & Breakfast" had been crossed out with red paint. The sign and the bumpy road leading away from it both gave no reason whatsoever to any passer by to drive there. It was only inviting when you knew what'd await you at the ranch.

Twenty minutes later, the house itself came into view, and Starsky instantly understood Donnell's grinned remark about Spencer sure liking it.

Even from the distance, it looked like freak driver's heaven. As if the whole complex had been built just for drag races.

Starsky whistled in admiration. Maybe they invested the bank's stolen money after all...

He slowed down a little to take in the setting while approaching a bunch of colorful cars parked in an untidy row next to a large fence.

There were three possible racing tracks, the detective figured. One starting where the cars stood, and leading alongside what looked like it'd been pastureland once. The drivers had to drive over the grassy ground, then through a tiny hole in the fence--only one car at a time would fit through that--over the bumpy, earthy ground there and out again towards the house.

The two other tracks had been built on other parts of the ranch. It looked like the creators had been excessively creative, using every bit of equipment the environment would supply them with.

In the middle of the row of cars stood Donnell's shiny red Ferrari like the alpha wolf, and its owner turned upon hearing the GTO arrive, barely hiding the excitement flickering in his eyes.

Starsky let his car roll next to a blue BMW that had a green and orange dragon painted on the hood, and turned off the engine.

Casually, he stepped out of his car and was approached by Donnell and a few other men.

"You're late, Curly," Donnell greeted him, but held out his hand.

Starsky accepted the handshake, lifting his shoulders in a half shrug. "So what, you pay for this place by hour?"

Donnell grinned, turning to the others surrounding him. "See, I told you he's a comedian. Spence, I'd like you to meet Redley's bravest." Pointing at one young man after the other, he quickly announced, "Tino, Riz, Murph, Calvin and the Fraggle."

Starsky raised his brows at the last one, who seemed to be the youngest out of the group, probably in his early twenties with boyish looks and tousled blond hair that hung happily over his eyes.

"The Fraggle?"

"Every time he wins, he gives this freaky dance," the one named Calvin explained and grabbed the kid's neck, shaking it slightly with obvious affection. "The Fraggle Rock, you know."

The Fraggle simply grinned. Starsky returned it, somehow liking the kid immediately.

"The other ones," Donnell explained with a gesture including other drivers that stood by their cars, chatting, "are no regulars. They come and go. And this," he added, turning when footsteps behind them could be heard, "is the lovely Miss Golden Gate, the only woman allowed to enter Redley's Bed& Breakfast."

The announced blonde girl approached Donnell with a casual, utterly sexy stroll, leaning against him and greeting him with a kiss, before she turned to cast Starsk an appreciating glance.

She was long-legged, slender and didn't make a point out of hiding her obvious merits. The detective's trained eyes saw some synthetic drug brightening her shiny blue eyes immediately.

He openly let his gaze wander over her up and down, before meeting her eyes again. "Do I want to know why they call you Miss Golden Gate?" he asked, sounding like he couldn't care less.

The girl moved away from Donnell's arms to look directly into Starsky's cobalt blue seas. "I only tell winners," she said in a low voice and reached out to brush his cheek, but he caught her hand in mid-air, held it for a second without breaking the eye contact. "That's not what I asked."

With that, he released her arm and looked at Donnell, who'd watched the scene quietly. The whole group had fallen silent.

"Well, Donny, are you going to show me the stables now?"

Donnell's lips arched in a lopsided smile, and without looking at her, he gently shoved the girl away in the direction of the cars. "Take position, baby. Curly's not one for waiting."

Starsky slightly moved his head in a 'right'-gesture, his gaze locked with Donnell's.

It took quite some time to get all of the drivers ready for action, and Starsky watched two of Redley's bravest, Riz and Tino, swiftly walking through the row to check on everything. He sat in the GTO, playing with the gas pedal to join the symphony of roaring engines, drumming the steering wheel with his thumbs.

"Hey, Curly," Donnell's voice next to him made him look out of his window, and he raised his brows questioningly.

"My grand and `nother one."

Starsky perched his lower lip as if thinking and then raised two fingers. Donnell's face brightened.

"I like you, man, you know that?" he grinned and turned to get into his waiting Ferrari.

Miss Golden Gate had taken position between the two cars in the middle, letting her gaze wander over the row for a moment, then quickly raised her arms and jumped in the air as she brought them back down.

Thirteen cars whirled off enough dust to make her cough and look away to hide her eyes.

Starsky decided to make a point of finally testing the racing speed RD's baby and put his full weight on the gas pedal. Instinctively not checking the rearview mirror, he turned the steering wheel to maneuver his position from the back row to the middle. Squealing sounds behind him told him he'd just managed to kick out a few competitors.

Now the only cars in front of him were the Ferrari and a light brown LTD that belonged to The Fraggle, it had thin black lines in a pattern all over it and made the whole thing look like a large chocolate bar.

The three of them reached the hole in the fence with Donnell racing through it first and Starsky behind him. Suddenly out of nowhere, the LTD appeared in front of the hole and stopped, blocking Starsky's way.

His initial reflex was to jerk the steering wheel around to avoid crashing right into the car, but the detective quickly grabbed his left hand with the right as if having to restrain himself. He didn't slow down, but stared and drove straight ahead.

It only occurred to him when the LTD sped out of his way at the very last moment, that he'd been holding his breath. Letting it out, he raced through the hole. The rest of the racers flew past him in one blurry mix of colors and shapes, and then he saw the Ferrari right in front again and stepped down on the gas once more.

This time, though, the money clearly was on Donnell. The GTO didn't have any more in it, and they crossed the finish line with the Ferrari's back door almost touching the GTO's front as Donnell came to a sudden halt.

Both men remained sitting for a second to catch their breath, then emerged from their cars. The other drivers were already approaching them from the other side of the building, The Fraggle way up on top.

Starsky and Donnell shook hands, looking directly at each other. "No excuses", Starsky said with a wry smile and handed over the money.

Donnell stashed it in his pocket without even looking at it. The expression on his face was clearly dominated by impressed admiration. "You've got guts, Curly," he said honestly.

"Yeah, and you a lousy character," Starsky replied, the smile not leaving his face. "I'll try to remember that the next time."

The younger man grinned. It was obvious he enjoyed the prospect of having found a worthy opponent.

"Man, you're fucking crazy!" a squeaky voice drew Starsky's attention to his right, and he saw the Fraggle approach him with wide eyes. "You'd have smashed right into me!"

"Naw," Starsky said absolutely serious, "I knew you'd fix the problem in time."

The kid stared at him blankly for a second, then burst with laughter. "I love this guy!" he stated, looking at Donnell, who rolled his eyes in fake annoyance.

"Watch it, Curly, he's gonna do his dance for you."

 

****

 

Starsky had been asleep for an hour, when a loud bang threw him off of the couch like a physical blow.

"AAAHHH!"

"Good morning," Hutch announced loudly from the hallway and stepped inside the living room, stopping only when he stood directly over his startled partner, arms folded over his chest.

"Huh? Wha´?" Starsky stammered, blinking wildly up at him. "Hutch?"

"You promised to call me," his partner said instead of a reply.

"Wha..." Starsky started and rubbed his face with both hands, before looking up at the blond again. "Man, give a guy a heart attack." Letting out a deep, shaky breath, he tried to struggle his way up to his feet. "What time is-"

"You promised to call me," Hutch repeated his words and took a step forward so he now stood on Starsky's blanket which encased both sides of his body, effectively trapping him on the floor beneath it.

Not having noticed, his partner tugged at the blanket in confusion, the fogginess of sleep leaving him slowly. "Huh? Call... Aw Hutch, sorry I forgot."

Watching him tug at the blanket with more force as he became more alert, Hutch said, "I noticed."

"I only came home awhile ago, anyw..." Starsky continued his struggle and finally found the reason for his pinned position. "Get off," he ordered in a muffled voice as he tugged fiercely at the blanket to get it out from under Hutch's feet.

The moment he repeated the action, Hutch stepped back lightly, sending his over-energetic partner flying backwards in a half somersault. "Sorry," he said quietly and went to the kitchen, grinning to himself at the swearing that followed him.

In the kitchen, Hutch started making coffee, when Starsky shuffled through the door to the kitchen table and sat down tiredly. The blanket was now wrapped around his shoulders since he wore only shorts and a t-shirt.

"What time is it, anyway?" he asked, squinting his eyes against the too bright rays of sunshine that danced in the white room.

Hutch checked his watch. "Seven."

"AM?"

Throwing Starsky a glance, the blond turned on the switch to the coffee machine and leaned back against the breakfast bar. He couldn't help smiling at the disheveled figure that was his partner. Unruly curls stuck out in every direction, and the blue depths of his eyes were almost hidden under heavy lids hanging deep over them.

"Yep."

"Uhkay," the exhausted detective mumbled, his eyes closing fully again and his head slowly falling down on folded arms on the table, "wake me when it's PM."

Hutch shook his head, amused. "When did you get home?"

"Dunno," came the muffled reply from somewhere between Starsky's arms.

"Ah. I take it ranch racing was fun then?"

"Mm."

"You got anything useful on tape?"

"Mm."

Hutch sighed. "Staaaarsky."

"Mm."

Rolling his eyes, the blond grabbed the coffee pot from the machine, quickly filling half a cup, before putting it back. He placed the steaming cup right in front of what was visible of his partner's face and sat down himself, watching Starsky's nose moving slightly at the smell infiltrating his nostrils.

"Mmm." Fingers crawling out from under the tired heap as if having a will of their own, the cup was grabbed and dragged closer until it rested against the curly haired man's forehead.

Hutch watched the ludicrous scene for a bit, then reached over to lift Starsky's head slightly so that he now was looking down at the cup. "I think it'll be easier this way, partner."

Starsky blinked at him, annoyed, and finally managed to lift the cup for a small sip of the dark liquid. "I'm tired, Hutch" he then whined, casting his friend an accusing look. "Why can't you let me sleep?"

"On the table?"

"Wherever." Swallowing some more coffee, Starsky wiped his eyes again. "Man, I'm beat."

Hutch patted his arm in mock sympathy and stood to get himself a cup of coffee too. "Where's the tape?" he asked.

"Still in the car," Starsky replied.

"Okay, I'll get it later. So," the blond turned to lean against the bar again, holding a cup of steaming coffee with both hands, "how d´it go? You won again?"

"Nah," Starsky replied, twisting a corner of his mouth as if disappointed. "But I got second three times."

Hutch's eyes widened. "Three ti... Wow. Quite a night, huh?"

"Didn't I just say that or am I falling asleep on the table?"

The blond smiled over his cup. "Grumpy, aren't we?"

"Huuuutch," his partner whined miserably, "I'm tired, okay? Nothing spectacular happened and everything is on that tape. So could you please leave me alone for some shut-eye now?"

"In a sec," Hutch promised and smiled at his friend's relieved sigh. "What d'you think, buddy, you made a real connection?"

That question wiped the sleep out of the cobalt blues, and Starsky drew his brows together, thinking. "Yeah," he finally answered, "I guess I did." His tone lightened to playfulness when he added, "I think they like me."

"Why am I not surprised," Hutch muttered into his cup.

"Hey, one of them's driving a LTD."

The blond stopped with his cup in mid-air. "Oh?" he asked, unsure. "I'm afraid to ask what it looks like."

Starsky grinned. "Like a chocolate bar."

Hutch looked at him with no expression whatsoever in his eyes, then placed his cup down on the breakfast bar, heading for the door. "I'm gonna get the tape. Go back to bed."

When he returned, he carefully closed the front door behind him and peeked inside the living room, frowning when not finding his partner dead to the world on the couch again.

"Starsk?"

The answer came in the form of soft snoring from inside the kitchen. Sighing with a shake of his head, Hutch closed the door to the living room and settled on the couch himself to listen to the tape.

 

****

 

Having been lectured by his partner for his stunt with the Fraggle's LTD during the first race and then again by Dobey for the same thing; plus his reckless way of "throwing the department's money around like paper", Starsky at least received some approving words from Gary Kellerman who was more than content with the detectives work.

Since he'd been invited to join the races again whenever he liked, the planning team had to admit he had done something right, and it was agreed that from now on he'd get a little more independence, meaning Kellerman would reduce his check ups to a minimum, and he would make his own decisions concerning the procedure.

A few days saw the detective visiting Redley's Bed & Breakfast on a regular basis, even when Donnell wasn't around, getting acquainted with some of the non-regulars and most of all, the Fraggle, who seemed to live on the ranch considering he was there whenever Starsky showed up.

The detective couldn't help admitting he genuinely liked the kid. Even though their first encounter had proved that the Fraggle was some sort of jackal to The Don, Starsky liked the young man's constantly good spirits, his witty smart-ass remarks and his overall child-like lust for life.

He was the embodiment of upper class ignorance, no doubt about that. Yet, out there on the tracks where nothing had any real meaning, anyway, his open display of carelessness was in a way... refreshing.

He was neither arrogant nor broody or seemingly lost like most of the bored, rich young men, but just happy to be able to speed his beloved "Candy Bar" up to the max.

"Looks like you're becoming a real regular too now, huh?" he asked Starsky one day after a few laps around a plain circular track they used to warm up or to simply enjoy the speed with no other worries about beating competitors.

Starsky shrugged. "Guess so." Spencer Keyes had been introduced as a quiet, rather introverted kind of guy, and since he'd been considerably successful with that act, Starsky had not changed it in any way. He could feel that it was drawing the small group of Redley's bravest, most of all, The Don, himself in. Made them believe he had some sort of secret. The Mystery Man.

He definitely liked that.

"Don said you're not from here," the kid continued his easy small talk, leaning against his car. "So you moved here recently?"

"You always this curious, Frag?"

"Hey," the Fraggle squealed, raising his hands submittingly, "just tryin´ to make conversation."

"I'm not a fan of conversations," Starsky replied, an idea suddenly popping up in his mind.

Time to join the inner circle.

"Oh?" the kid asked, just like the detective had anticipated it. "How come?"

Perfectly timing his actions to let suspicion rise inside the young head, he got inside his car and slammed the door shut, saying quietly, "You never know who's on the other end of it, you know", before driving away, leaving the confused kid swallowing dust.

 

****

 

The day after his conversation with the Fraggle, Donnell asked him to stay after the last drivers had left the area, so that only the Reedley's bravest were left. That day they all six had showed up, and Starsky thought with cop mode kicking in that he may have just managed the last step in his assignment.

"You know, Curly, you've made yourself quite a name here," Donnell told him, when they sat on The Candy Bar's hood, watching the other five men admiring some new equipment Riz had gotten for his Buick. It was a larger version of the one Starsky had seen in Phil Dunbar's garage days ago, and had the Star Spangled Banner as a paint job with the stars on the hood.

Starsky merely raised his brows at the comment.

"Serious, man," Donnell grinned like you would before punching someone playfully. Only that somehow it was clear that no one touched Spencer Keyes. Without Starsky ever intending it to happen, everyone at Reedley's believed Spencer Keyes to be a man you better didn't mess with.

"That green devil you drive is one hell of a bet dragger around here. People get rich because of you."

The curly haired man shrugged. "Happens."

Donnell eyed him with that special expression Starsky had noticed before. A look that was reserved for Spencer Keyes. More than anything else the kid said or did, the look assured the detective that he was on the right track with Eric Donnell. His instinct about the young man and the tactics he'd chosen as a result had been right.

"You don't care about much, do you?" Donnell asked, a smile arching his lips at one side.

"I find it safer not to make a habit out of it," Starsky replied.

"Wiser words have never bee spoken," Donnell grinned, but Starsky only nodded.

"Uh huh," he said, making a point out of showing he didn't take the younger man very seriously, "sure."

Donnell noticed, and there was a hint of the fury he felt at the other man's reply written in his eyes, but he pushed it aside--Starsky could almost see it slide out of the chocolate colored eyes--as he slid from the Candy Bar's hood. "There's something I want you to see," he said, and turned.

Just in time, as if he felt the change of plans, the Fraggle turned to look at his leader and nodded curtly at the gesture he received. He then turned back to his friends, and shortly after they all hurried to their cars.

Starsky watched with a questioning gaze, though the cop inside him prepared for action.

Inner circle show starts as of... now! Congrats, Davey.

Donnell turned to him again and squinted his eyes briefly. "You just follow us," he said, "it's worth it. Trust me."

With that, he strolled off to the Ferrari.

Starsky waited until the Fraggle was inside his car and started the engine, then lay back on the hood and motioned the kid to drive him over to the GTO parked a few feet away.

Once there, he slid off the hood with a thankful gesture, got inside his car and followed Redley's bravest up the road and a few miles to the east to another small byway that led away from the road to a...

"Aw, c'mon, Don, you gotta be kidding me!" Starsky mumbled under his breath, as he rolled down a small hill behind the Fraggle's LTD towards a playground.

There was a very big slide attached to a small hill, and suddenly it hit Starsky that this was the cream of Redley's.

A perfect racing track with so many dangerous obstacles you could significantly reduce the number of California drivers to a minimum by sending them there.

Hutch's gonna have a fit!

Parking his GTO next to the Ferrari, Starsky got out of the car and gave a long, appreciative look at the sight before him.

"Well?" Donnell asked as he appeared next to him. "What d'you say?"

"Pretty cool," Starsky nodded.

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Donnell sighed like a father looking down at his first born in the hands of a friend. "We built this decades ago. But it's not really safe here anymore," he added with a glance over his shoulder, "so we just drop by every now and then. On special occasions," he grinned and raised his hand as if to lay it down on Starsky's shoulder, but thought differently.

With the question burning inside him, like the mike that itched on his chest, Starsky forced himself to remain quiet.

Fortunately, he was right about Eric Donnell. The kid continued, "A guy had an accident here recently, and now the cops check out the place like regulars, it's absolutely annoying, believe me."

The detective noticed the Fraggle, who stood next to his car behind Don, bow his head quickly at that, and he made a mental note about it.

"Shit happens," he remarked dryly, and once again noted the Fraggle's reaction. There was fury in the young eyes, though Starsky had--yet--no idea where it came from.

"You can say that again," Donnell nodded, but his face brightened quicker than it had darkened at the memory of the recent loss before. "Well-let's get the show on the road."

Starsky didn't reply, just wiggled his brows once, and then turned to get back inside his GTO.

It was driving purely for fun, no races, no bets.

And it was fun.

Much to his own surprise and despite his usual fear of heights, Starsky found himself "whooooeeeeehing" and laughing like crazy every time he drove down that huge slide.

There were lots of other promising looking attractions on the playground too, like a tricky labyrinth made of wheels, but the curly headed detective just couldn't help getting totally addicted to the car slide. The trick was to step down on the gas full speed at first and then switch to the brakes in an instant halfway down. You'd totally lose control over the car, and more than once did the GTO spin around like a merry-go-round, the world swirling outside the windows.

When this is over, I'll drag Hutch out here, I swear! This is so cool! You gotta hand it to the kids, they're brilliant. Degraded scum, but absolutely brilliant.

His cop mode never turning off when he was undercover, he also noticed for the first time since the operation had started, just how child-like the group of young men actually was. Maybe they all were actual criminals, and they were reckless, arrogant, non-needed by-products of the society, but then and there it occurred to Starsky that they were just kids in older looking bodies.

They didn't even pretend to be grown-up. Their toys were more expensive than when they'd been teens, the games were more dangerous, but in short, that was what they were doing: playing with toys.

All of a sudden, it didn't surprise him any longer just how easy it'd been to impress Eric Donnell. He'd just acted like a bad ass, like he always did when undercover. Only these suspects were none of the kind. They were easy to impress, easy to gain their respect and easy to scare.

Why didn't I think of this before?! I was so busy playing a role, I forgot to really look!

He was just about to verbalize his thoughts for the tape inside the car, while driving up the slide again. He was next to Murph´s light blue Corvette, the one that had large wings painted on the sides and doors, when all of a sudden all hell broke lose.

At first, it had been only one of the others, probably Riz, hooting like crazy. A split second later, another one had joined in, and after that everyone except for Starsky and Murph, on top of the slide had sounded their horns, the mind-splitting noises fading fast, though, as the cars raced away in full speed.

It didn't take the detective long to figure out what that meant. A police car had been spotted. Cops.

Shit.

He couldn't risk getting busted. Of course, he would be released as soon as he'd flash his badge, but how would he explain that to the kids? He'd spent days making a point of being new to the city. There was no way Spencer Keyes, the man with a dark secret, would be released in a day's time.

Stepping on the gas, Starsky started to drive down the slide where he could head for a nearby way to the road. Only then did he know he'd forgotten to check on the Corvette next to him, when he felt the blow to the GTO's side.

Murph had panicked and driven on without even looking ahead at the other car. His front practically shoved the GTO aside, pushing it a little over the side of the slide, so that it hung with one tire in the air, but was still sliding down the slippery ground at an alarming speed.

The driver's eyes met for a split second, then the Corvette was past Starsky and raced away, sand and dust infiltrating the air like sudden fog.

The sirens of the police car were getting louder.

"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!" Starsky yelled as he frantically tried to get the vehicle under control again. The ground sped upwards to meet him with a speed he'd last seen at the movies, and there was nothing he could do about getting the one tire still hanging over the edge back onto the slide to actually drive. Braking would only make the whole car lose its balance in that position, he knew that. Just like hitting the ground like that would too.

The only way to avoid one hell of a landing that'd be, was to speed up more. If he could speed up enough to actually lose contact with the ground at the end of the slide, maybe he could manage to get the car on its four wheels again.

This time he actually stepped down on the gas pedal, his body coming off the seat. "Come on, baby, come on! I know you can do better than tha... Ohgodohgodohgodohgoaaaaahhh!"

He reached the end of the slide, squeezed his eyes shut and jerked the steering wheel to the right. He could feel the car flying for a moment, the adrenalin rushing through his veins like a drug, making him actually giggle at the sensation in his stomach and head, then there was a loud thud and a violent rattle as the wheels came down on the ground again.

The detective was thrown violently against the driver's door, his head and side connecting painfully with the hard material. He felt the air being pressed out of his lungs, and the car whirling around swiftly before crashing into something soft, screeching sounds hit his ears like fingernails that were drawn over a blackboard.

He was thrown forward with a jerk, then back against the seat again, and everything was still.

It took him a while to figure out that the unnerving ragged sound he heard was his own panting, and another to notice that he still had his eyes closed.

Prying them open took more effort than he actually could muster. He also realized from the blurriness of his vision that his head hurt like hell.

He tried unsuccessfully to stifle an agonized moan at the sharp stabbing behind his eyes and focused on what had stopped his little car dance, but only saw a greenish blur that still seemed to whirl around. Fighting the raising nausea, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes again.

Aw, fuck. RD's going to have me for lunch. If there'll be anything left of me when Hutch is through with me.

"This," he said, surprised when he found he could barely muster a shaky whisper, "is not my fault. Uh uh."

With that statement, he lost consciousness.

****

It was a stupid idea to drive with that monster headache, but then, Starsky thought, not much more stupid than flying over the edge of the slide had been. Actually, on his stupidity-meter driving home with the left side of his head throbbing like crazy and his vision blurring from time to time was way behind every other stunt he'd pulled since joining Redley's bravest.

At least he tried to convince himself of that.

Like Hutch said, you've to do things you normally wouldn't dream of when undercover, right? Right. Owwww, my heeeeaaaad!

Squinting his eyes shut, he shook his head once to clear it, but of course that was the stupidest thing he could do, and a low groan escaped him as a loud yelling from next to him tore him back to the here and now.

"`Ey, asshole, where'd you learn how to drive?!" an angry driver called from out of his car then sped up, getting in line ahead of the GTO with a parting gesture to emphasize his words.

Starsky laughed slightly at the rhetorical question. Playground.

The laugh turned into a hiss of pain, and he carefully reached out to touch his sore side. He didn't think he'd cracked the ribs there, they were most likely bruised, and just the thought of how he was going to feel in the morning made him cringe.

As if on cue, he spotted a 24-hour-pharmacy nearby and pulled over without missing a beat.

It was only when he emerged from his car that he realized he hadn't even checked on it yet. When he'd come to at the forlorn playground, the first thing he'd noticed was that the cops had obviously missed the green car blending into the bush he had crashed into. Leaves and branches covered the front window, and checking his watch Starsky found he'd only been unconscious for a few minutes.

The sounds of sirens were gone, though, and there was no one on the playground except for him.

They must've followed the others, he'd thought, adding with a smirk, I hope they got Murph! When this is over I'll-

At that point, he'd finally tried to move and had been greeted by the pain in his head, exploding like it was something from the outside only now connecting with his head. He'd nearly passed out again, but had forced himself to keep his eyes open and start the car.

Gotta get outta here before the cops come back to check.

Bending forward to start the engine had reminded him that he'd hit his head on the little flight he'd taken, and a loud moan had escaped him.

"Aw shit," he'd muttered, squinting his eyes shut against the stabbing pain, while starting the engine, "I've to destroy the fucking tape."

Driving off with low screeching sounds as the leaves brushed over the GTO's hood, he rubbed his forehead to somewhat ease the throbbing sensation behind his eyes, then frowned at where the small recorder was hidden behind the dash-board.

"Did I just say that out loud?"

Did I just say that out loud?! Jeez, don't forget to get rid of that tape, Davy!

He'd never once thought about the car's condition on his way, and now that he stood outside with his back toward it, he wondered if he really wanted to know.

Maybe it was just his imagination, but he thought his headache increased at the prospect of what he'd see when turning around.

RD's not really gonna hurt me, are they? I mean, I could've smashed the whole thing into something... else, right? Right? Right? Right. `Kay, Davy, turn around.

He didn't move.

Turn around now!

In slow motion, he started to peek over his shoulder, then turned fully, his eyes slowly widening at the sight that met him.

"Well, I'll be..." he muttered, stepping closer, reaching out to touch the GTO's hood carefully like he was stroking a wild animal.

The car was unmarked. Starsky couldn't believe it. Despite having to walk on the street, he circled it fully once, then twice. There wasn't a single scratch on the shiny green-white paint.

"You're beautiful, baby, you know that?" the detective asked the car, his voice rising in happy relief. "I could kiss you!"

Remembering that he was in public, he restrained himself, though, and just patted the hood affectionately as he left for the pharmacy.

His own reflection in the shop's window, didn't give quite as much cause for relief.

On the left side of his face there was a large bluish-black bruise covering his temple, parts of his forehead and surrounding his eye. That sure was going to be one hell of a shiner the next day. Angry red spots stood out here and there, dried blood that had crusted, gluing damp curls to his too pale face.

All in all, he looked like death warmed over.

'Triffic. "Accident, Hutch? Hmmmm.... what d'you mean, I'm not sure I understand." Yeah, sure, Davy, sure. Keep on practicing. You know what, maybe he won't even notice. Just wear a baseball cap. Or a plastic bag.

Inwardly continuing to mock himself, he entered the pharmacy, wincing at the bell that rang loudly to announce his entrance.

"Gee, what happened to you, boy?" the elderly man behind the counter asked with a whistle. He looked friendly, though too amused for Starsky's liking. Besides, the detective was in absolutely no mood to be faced with the 'boy'-kindness elderly people seemed to always treat him with.

"Fell," he muttered and picked a small box of painkillers off the shelf, then placed it on the counter.

"From what, a plane?"

"Slide," Starsky answered flatly. "I'll take tho-"

"Oh no," the man cut him off with a smile. "You don't wanna take those, kid. They're no good, believe me. I took them once and they only made my headache worse."

Starsky couldn't help roll his eyes, irritated. Usually, he was very patient with old people and he genuinely liked the way they seemed to feel at ease around him, like he was the first person to make them feel respect or even noticed for a long time. But not tonight. Tonight he was banged up, exhausted to the verge of fainting and on top of all that was a whole bunch of devious dwarves starting to work on his brain with small sledgehammers.

The last thing he wanted to do was to listen to the old man's story of the bad painkillers.

"Listen, sir, I'm-"

"Wait," his pathetic plea was cut off, "I have just the right thing for you. Wait, I have to get it from..." His voice fading as he left the room through a backdoor behind the counter, the old man hurried to get the young man the "right" medicine.

Starsky sighed deeply, cradling his head in his hands with his elbows on the counter top. After a long moment, when the shop-owner still hadn't returned, he peeked through his spread fingers at the box of painkillers he'd placed on the counter top.

He was just about to simply take them and leave the money, when the old man returned with a plain white bottle. "Here," he said, putting the bottle in front of Starsky, who looked at the small label suspiciously.

"Homeopat..." he mumbled, frowning like a little boy who was inspecting the most disgusting vegetable he'd ever seen, "natural ingredie-"

"Try them," the old man said with a wide smile. "You shouldn't take so much chemical stuff, you know? Not good for-"

"Yeah, sure, here," Starsky muttered, shoving a few bills over the counter and then practically fled from the shop to the GTO outside.

While he drove off into late night traffic, the mocking voice inside his head returned. Maybe it was one of the dwarves, Starsky wondered.

Maybe that's even a plan, Davy. "Hey, Hutch, I may have wracked the car and knocked myself out, but look what I got! Non-chemical painkillers! Natural ingred..."

"Oh, shut up!" he told himself firmly and pulled over at Spencer Keyes´ place.

He barely made it to the couch before feeling his knees give away, and he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

 

****

 

The constant ringing of the phone woke him in what felt like seconds later, but with the stabbing sensation when he opened his eyes, Starsky knew it was morning. Fumbling around blindly, he knocked the phone off the coffee table, and shortly afterwards landed on the ground beside it as he reached out to pick up the receiver.

"Ow!!! Shit!!!" he yelped when his bruised left side connected painfully with the floor and rolled around so that he now lay flat on his back.

The stunned silence on the other end of the phone was disturbed by an occasional sound that sounded like chuckling, and the detective felt, more than knew that it was not Hutch.

"This better be important!" he barked, deciding against sitting up, as he wanted to concentrate on the caller, and sitting up promised to be one painful experience.

"Good morning," the cheerful voice of Eric Donnell answered, followed by a laugh.

"What's so good about it?!" Starsky muttered, closing his eyes against the starting pain in his head. Now that he lay still, the dwarves could pick up their work again. He suddenly wished he'd taken some of the non-chemical painkillers before going to sleep.

"Why am I not surprised you're grumpy in the morning?" Donnell smirked.

"Why am I surprised you dare to call me this early?!"

Grimly satisfied at the silence that followed his remark, the detective finally asked, "What gives, Donny? You so lonely you needed to hear my voice?"

"Just wanted to make sure the cops didn't get you yesterday," Donnell answered. "I figured you'd have made it, they followed Murph halfway to Nevada." He laughed in delight. "But he got away. Just wanted to make sure they didn't turn back to collect you or somethin´."

"I'm touched," Starsky replied sarcastically. His head was really starting to bother him.

"Hey, what're friends for?"

"Don't ask me," the detective said, not missing the chance to get a Spencer Keyes line in. "So Murph got away, huh? What a shame."

Again, there was a very brief pause at the other end. When he spoke again, Donnell sounded distressed, even a little scared. "Yeah, uhm, `bout that... Uhm... Listen, Spencer, you think we could meet somewhere to... talk?"

Arching his brows at Donnell's use of his whole cover name instead of 'Curly', Starsky waited a few moments before answering, "`Kay. Where?"

"Dead Men's Beach?"

Starsky smiled thinly. Dead Men's Beach was a little outside the city, unofficially named after its occasional appearances in the news, since it seemed to be the beach where most of Bay City's sea corpses were washed up. Regarded as dangerous, though the murders were never committed there, the beach was avoided by most people.

Teen gangs, junkies, in short, folks on the search for some privacy liked it, though.

"Gimme half an hour," Starsky said and hung up. For a moment, he simply lay on the ground, staring at the ceiling, contemplating about how to drag himself up without causing one hell of a dwarf revolt.

Groaning and grunting, he finally made it to his feet, grabbing the couch for balance and looked down at himself. His shirt was hanging open, and he could see that the small mike was still plastered to his chest, back, and sides with a lot of tape.

Ripping it off of his bruised ribs was going to absolutely make his day.

"Why me?!" he called out to no one in particular and cringed when the sound of his own voice arrived at the pain-centered behind his temples.

Shuffling towards the kitchen, he decided he needed some natural ingredients before dealing with the duct tape.

 

****

 

The Don looked distressed. Uneasy.

"Hey Curly," he greeted the detective, who'd left his car and casually strolled over to the red Ferrari. Donnell had parked on the promenade, facing the sparkling blue beach panorama. It was a perfect setting for a postcard, Starsky thought. A good-looking guy in a Ferrari, overlooking a perfect California beach.

"Donny," Starsky nodded and sat down next to Donnell on the hood of the Ferrari.

A startled look crossed the younger man's eyes as he noticed the large bruise on Starsky's face. He visibly contemplated about making a comment about it, when the detective broke the silence.

"Nice day for the outdoors." He leaned back a little, his hands on the hood behind his back, and lifted his head with his eyes closed as if to savor the salty air.

Funny enough, the gesture seemed to only increase Donnell's distress. "Yeah, uhm... Spence, I gotta talk to you."

Starsky opened one eye at him lazily.

"It's... it's about Murph," the kid said, avoiding his look.

Inwardly grinning a hundred-volt-Starsky-Special, the detective forced his features to bear no expression at all as he casually asked, "What about Murph?"

Donnell shot him a glance. "You know damn well what about him. I mean, hey, man, he told me what happened, and the way I see it it was an accident."

"Funny, I don't recall you being there," Starsky replied quietly. Oh, he loved this! The whole scene reminded him of an old mob film he'd once seen. Now, he almost regretted not having brought the mike this time. He just hadn't been able to tape it to his chest again after finally peeling it off. What with his left side being one big bruise, he couldn't bring himself to do it.

But it was a shame. He'd love to play this scene for Hutch.

"I'm not saying he didn't... overreact," Donnell said, raising his hands in self-defense. "All I'm saying is that when the cops come, everyone is responsible for themselves. Know what I mean?"

Starsky just looked at him. He didn't even blink.

"He didn't mean to push you like that. All he wanted was to get the hell out of there. He said he didn't even see you!" The kid was rambling, and Starsky enjoyed every second of it. , He remained silent.

"A-and nothing happened, right? The cops didn't get you and..." He glanced up at the older man with his mouth still open, but at the sight of the battered face closed it quickly as if wanting to swallow back the words he'd planned next. Instead, he looked over to the GTO and said, "And your car's alright."

Starsky laughed, he couldn't help it.

Eyeing him nervously at first, Donnell finally joined in, chuckling. "Don't laugh, man. The guy's scared out of his wits! He drove around all night, I think he called me from Alaska or somethin´ this morning."

"He oughta be," Starsky said through his laughter, but it was obvious he wasn't serious.

"So," Donnell asked after a brief moment, studying him closely, "you're not gonna..." His voice trailed off.

"Blow his brains out?" Starsky finished amusedly.

"Yeah."

"Hmmm," the detective shook his head slightly as if thinking, "I have to think about it. It is very tempting," he added, waggling his brows.

Donnell smiled in obvious relief and started to rummage through his pockets. "You know, I'm glad you're... you know, understanding," he grinned in dry humor. "Woulda missed old Murph."

Trying not to stare too curiously at what it was the kid finally produced from his pocket, Starsky asked, "You're all particularly close? Redley's bravest?"

Donnell shrugged. Starsky could now see that he held a small bottle in his hand. It had no label and looked like the one the detective had bought his chemical-free painkillers in.

Uh uh, he thought, the hairs slightly rising on the back of his neck.

"We've known each other since, dunno, third grade or so," the kid answered the question without looking at Starsky, therefore not noticing the growing distress in the midnight blue eyes.

While continuing to describe his relationship with the other racers, he flipped open the bottle and shook a few small, shiny white pills into his open palm.

Aw shit, Starsky cursed inwardly as he suddenly recognized the pills. It was a relatively new sort of synthetic drug, a pusher really, like cocaine, but pure chemicals. It was one of those rich folks drug, and since the people he usually dealt with were more into the old-fashioned, filthy street drugs, Starsky didn't have a clue what its effects were. He only recognized it because he'd recently read an article about it in the newspaper Hutch had brought to their latest stakeout. When his partner had fallen asleep, and he'd gotten bored, he'd started to read that particular article while at the same time keep watch of the suspect's house.

Now he wished he'd paid more attention to what he'd been reading...

Despite himself, he momentarily lost track of what Donnell was talking about, and stared at the few pills that were now offered to him casually. The kid had swallowed two or three himself and held out the others to him. It was understood he'd accept them, he knew that. Spencer Keyes would take those.

Besides, the kid was starting to talk himself into trouble here, the detective could sense that. He was talking about their little group being into some "gigs" from time to time. And maybe the drugs would make him even more talkative.

Yeah, Starsky thought, or myself.

Yet, there was nothing he could do about it. Not accepting the drugs would raise suspicion, and it was only pills--he could throw them up again afterwards, right? Before they would kick in. Right? Right.

So with a deep inward sigh, he swallowed three tiny pills with the same uncaring expression Donnell had, and then asked, "What about the kid?"

It was clear that he meant the Fraggle, since he was much younger than the rest of the group.

Donnell sighed. "Yeah. His brother used to drive with us."

The way he said it it sounded as if they were a bunch of bikers. Starsky almost grinned at that.

"But," Donnell continued after hesitating long enough to leave a mental note in the detective's head about it, "he's gone now, and we sorta take care of the kid." Again, there was a short pause, before he added in a very low voice, "He's not very grateful, though, you know."

Starsky arched his brows questioningly. "What d'you mean?"

"Well, he..." Donnell started, then stopped as if realizing just then, whom he was talking to. But after a short glance at the curly haired man, he continued. Starsky wondered if he'd just passed the final line to the Don's trust. "We took him with us. To a few things, we had coming down, I mean. You know, fun stuff."

Starsky nodded. Fun stuff. Armed robbery, fun stuff. Hutch's gonna love... Suddenly recalling he didn't bring the mike, he forced himself to not swear loudly. Yeah, right. He's gonna love this, Davy. Not to mention RD. Here you are, getting a goddamned confession and you have sand to prove it! They're gonna love you for this! You're sure to get promoted!

Not aware of the inner lecture the other man was receiving, Donnell went on, and "He was never any good at it Stood in the way a lot, and all. But once you're in, you can't get thrown out. I mean, it's understood. So, we just tried to not have him do too much. Then one day, he lets us down. He didn't show up."

Starsky narrowed his eyes, focusing on Donnell. He didn't want to admit it, but he was starting to feel... strange. Excited. Nervous. And he didn't hurt any more. Not at all.

A part of him knew it was the drugs kicking in, but another; considerably stronger part wanted to believe it had something to do with Donnell's story. Or the weather. Or the fact that he was there at that particular moment, all the time he wanted on his hands and all doors open. Surprised, he realized he felt free. Free to do anything he wanted. And he wanted to do something. His whole body felt as if it ached for action.

"I mean, he was the fucking driver," Donnell said, still seemingly lost in his story, and looked at Starsky, his eyes unnaturally wide and bright.

The detective wondered if he also looked like that. But then, he noticed, he didn't care.

"Seems to me you're not particularly fond of Fraggie," he said, surprised at how normal his voice sounded.

"Hey, don't get me wrong," Donnell, said, lifting his hands. "His brother, man, I loved that guy. He was my best friend. And I really want to take care of the kid, but..." A sudden almost hysterical laughter broke free, as he grabbed Starsky's shoulder as if to steady himself. "I hate his guts!" he admitted in a giggle.

Starsky grinned down at the kid that was shaking with laughter. At least I'm not the only one, he thought, but was dismayed at his own sudden chuckling.

Aw man, I'm zonked. This is horrible! Get a grip, Davy, c´mon!

"Maybe somebody oughta do something about him then," he heard himself say.

The kid stopped laughing and slowly lifted himself up. "Wha... What d'you... You mean like...?" he stammered through a spreading grin.

Starsky wriggled his brows. He couldn't believe how careless he felt. As if all of this really was just a game, not reality.

"Hey, that... You wouldn't...?" Bending closer to the other man, until their noses almost touched, Donnell looked right into deep blue eyes, before he jerked back as if he'd been pushed. "Oh my god, you would!"

Starsky watched him digest the information for a bit. Another sudden rush of energy hit him like a fit. Damn, he wanted to do something! His searching gaze settled on the GTO, and he had an idea.

"Not for free," he grinned in response, pointing at his car with his head.

Donnell's gaze followed his, and then snapped back as he understood. Pure terror crossed his wide-eyed face, and then he burst with laughter. "Y-you wanna race for this?! Are you serious?!"

Starsky shrugged casually. "Yep. Don't you ever do favor racing? Where I come from, we di... do that all the time."

There was even a bit of truth in that statement. Since he and his teen friends hadn't had any money back in their 'racing days', they'd always raced for favors. Only that back then it had been things like convincing your big sister to go out with the winner or doing his homework, stuff like that. Not killing a twenty-year-old kid.

"Favor-ra... I love that!" Donnell exclaimed, all excited, and jumped off the Ferrari's hood. "So when you lose, you're gonna..." Like before, he trailed off and Starsky smiled thinly.

"Take care of your buddy's irritating little bro," he finished, nodding.

"What if I lose?"

Starsky stared directly at him, the smile widening. "You know what, I'll think of something while we drive."

Donnell was about to protest, when realization hit him. It was actually visible on his face, the truth falling into place piece by piece like a puzzle. "Yeah," he then nodded, his gaze locked with Starsky's, "you do that."

With that he turned to get inside his car, and the detective slid to the ground, almost losing his footing when he landed. His vision blurred briefly, but there was no pain in his head. The dwarves were having their break.

Giggling at the image of ten dwarves sleeping inside his head, curled up next to his brain, he hurried over to the GTO.

As he got inside, he was only briefly surprised at the lack of any protest from his bruised side.

Natural ingredients my ass. When we're done here, I'm gonna ask Donny what this stuff is!

Grinning, he started the engine to go out and lose a favor.

 

****

 

Whatever ingredients it had been that had sufficiently blocked out the pain in his head and side turned out to be the fast to wear off too.

So, when he finally drove to his apartment again, after having lost a long, sandy race along the beach, the adrenalin rush hadn't stopped, but increased and on top of his trembling, uncomfortable, nervous urgency to do something, it clashed against the mind-numbing pain in his head like waves against a rock.

He could almost feel the blows his already abused insides took when each and every artificial high-jibe rushed through his veins.

Tired and exhausted as if he hadn't slept in decades, and at the same time so tense he shook like a leaf. His hands trembling so badly he hardly could hold his grip on the steering wheel.

You can throw them up later, Davy,'he chided himself, the inner argument visible on his pale face, don't worry, Davy, they just get you a little alert. Big deal. A little alert, my foot! I feel like I'm about to-

A sudden stabbing pain directly behind his eyes made him cringe and almost brake in the middle of the street. For the second time that day someone behind him sounded his horn furiously, then passed the lurching GTO with a loud swear.

Shut up! My heeeeeaaaaad!!!! A small whimper escaped the miserable detective, and he forced himself to keep his eyes open until he finally, after what felt like hours, reached his apartment.

Blindly fumbling for the door, he let himself in and went straight to the kitchen where he'd placed the painkillers on the table before he'd left for his meeting with the Don.

Dimly aware of the phone ringing off the hook in the background, he grabbed the bottle and swallowed a handful of the small, white pills.

Ready to feel their relieving effect, he leaned back against the breakfast bar with a small sigh and closed his eyes. His knees started to buckle, and he couldn't help sliding down to the ground, his legs outstretched, his ribs protesting at the sudden jerk. The burning sensation made him hiss in pain and lean his head back, blinking up at the blurry ceiling. God, how he hated it that everything around him was such a damnable shiny white. In his state, it looked like all the lines melted together to one big, blurry white fog that grew steadily thicker. Threatening to swallow him.

The edges of his vision grew darker, the white becoming the center of a hole surrounded by blackness.

And then realization hit him. Aw no! He'd taken painkillers on top of chemical drugs. Starsky, you're such a clever guy, you know that?! A real genius! "Dave Starsky, super genius", that's what they're gonna write on your head stone.

Panicking, he struggled to get to his feet and to the bathroom. But the floor seemed to move under his feet and he stumbled back, accidentally sitting down on a chair, his head hitting the table hard as it fell forward with a painful thud.

The room spun around him, and not catching the irony, he fiercely tried to fight the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him.

When he noticed his mistake, he was already too tired to lift his eyelids. A split second later, he was asleep.

 

****

 

Ken Hutchinson was ready to kick ass. One in particular at least.

So help me, Starsky, if you're all right, I'm gonna kill you. And if not, I'll... No, no, no, Hutch, don't start. He's all right, you'll see. Probably went to find out how Miss Golden Gate got her name. Or on a race to Mexico... I'm gonna kill you, Starsk!

After having spent most of the night practically staring his phone into the ground, waiting for a call that never came, he'd woken up on his couch that morning, still in his clothes from the day before. His back taking revenge for the abuse, he slowly grabbed the phone to call his partner. But Starsky was either not picking up his phone or not in the apartment.

Concern rushing through him like adrenalin, he'd then driven by the apartment only to find the GTO wasn't parked in front of it.

"Damn it, Starsk, where are you?!" he'd whispered to himself, and driven off to the precinct. But after watching the blond detective writing a whole report while all the time cradling the receiver of his phone between his neck and shoulder, Gary Kellerman had sent him over to check out the cover apartment with some lame excuse.

Hutch had been so beat at that time he hadn't even noticed.

Oh god, what if his cover was blown? But he would've noticed if any turkey we busted was on that ranch, wouldn't he? Sure, he would. He's not stupid. A reckless, careless, selfish, absolutely dead hell of a partner, but not stu-

His thoughts froze at the sight that met him in front of Spencer Keyes´ apartment. The GTO. Unmarked, shiny green with a white stripe on it. Peacefully parked, locked, seemingly resting.

I'm going to kill him!

He pulled over next to the car, took a quick moment to get the tape that was still in the hidden recorder, and then rushed towards the small entrance of the building.

Quietly opening the door, he listened for any noises and was instantly met with loud snoring coming from the kitchen.

The rage wasn't simply boiling any longer, it was bubbling.

Slamming the front door shut with all the strength his anger could provide, Hutch marched to the kitchen's entrance in time to see his startled partner crashing to the ground from his sleeping position on a chair, frantically fumbling at his side were usually his gun would have been.

"Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh?" he stammered, before squinting his eyes tightly shut. "Owww! Ow!" His gun-less hands went up to his forehead again, cradling his head.

"Y-you..." Hutch began yelling, but bit off the words angrily at the first signs of his ever so often-occurring stutter.

"Hutch?" a pitiful voice came from somewhere inside that untidy heap of clothes, curls and hands.

"No, Gordo, the milk man!" Hutch shot back, though some of the wind was taken out of his sails by the way Starsky still held his head and the ragged breathing now coming from him. "Yes, me." Approaching his friend further, he bent down a little, frowning. "Hey, you ok-"

"Hmn," Starsky moaned, suddenly jumping to his feet, only to stumble heavily against the blond, who for the first time noticed the bruising on Starsky's head, his sickly pallor.

"What happened to y-"

"Mm-mmnsick," the smaller man muttered instead of an answer, weakly pushing away from Hutch who was too dumbfounded to restrain his friend and simply stood with wide eyes, watching Starsky more or less crawl to the bathroom.

A split second later, painfully sounding retches echoed through the whole apartment, disturbed by an occasional whimper or moan as Starsky's ribs protested against yet more abuse.

Having gathered his wits again, Hutch quickly followed his partner and stood in the doorway, staring at Starsky in dismay.

"Oh gaaawd," the miserable detective moaned, tilting forward till his sweaty forehead rested on the cold floor.

Except for his obvious injuries, Hutch could have sworn his friend was just having the great-grandmother of all hangovers.

"Starsk, wha-"

"Not now, Hutch, please," Starsky begged with his eyes closed and still seemingly glued to the ground. "I'm not yet... throu..." Quickly rising from his resting place, he took position again, as another attack of dry heaves left him retching helplessly again.

"I-is there anything I can d-" Hutch asked helpfully and made an attempt at crouching down behind his friend, but was kept from it by Starsky kicking the door shut, almost in Hutch's face.

"Jezz Hutch," a pathetic voice followed the reaction, the words panted through audible pain, "d'you mind?! I'm losing private stuff here, `kay?! As long as you don't plan to... ow!... shoot me, stay outsi... aw gaw..."

The rest of the word was cut off by heaves again, and Hutch unconsciously touched the door gently, wincing partly in sympathy and disgust.

"Uh, `kay, buddy. You just, uhm, do what you have to do, and I go listening to the ta-"

"Don't stare at the door!" Starsky yelled weakly. "I'm throwing up here, for Christ's Sake!"

Thinking his partner couldn't be that bad off if he still managed to bite Hutch's head off for trespassing, the blond chuckled under his breath, and left for the living room, tape in hand.

Deciding he and Starsky both could use some coffee; he stopped at the kitchen, actually smiling over his shoulder at the pathetic sounds still emerging from the bathroom.

Serves him right. What d'he do, go to a racers´ party?

All malicious joy faded away instantly, though, when his gaze fell upon the opened bottle of painkillers on the breakfast bar. Frowning, the blond grabbed it, his eyes widening as he read the label.

Natural ingredie... Gee, Starsk, did they drug you into taking these?

As if he'd heard his partner's thoughts, Starsky gave a particularly loud whimper. Hutch's head snapped up at that, but recalling his friend's temper when hung-over, he restrained himself from offering his help, and instead made coffee, before leaving for the living room.

When passing the bathroom, he heard the shower and Starsky's occasional moans and groans.

His head. Maybe he had an accident or something. Oh, buddy, you have some explaining to do!

 

****

 

The moment Starsky yelled at Hutch, he regretted it, and not because he felt it to be wrong to lash out at his partner in his misery, but because that was not the way to start what he knew was about to come. Hutch would see the bruises on his face, he'd already witnessed the aftermath of Starsky's short encounter with the Donnell pharmacy, and it wouldn't take him long to figure everything out and let his partner go through the hell Starsky knew he deserved for his stupidity.

Staring at his incredibly pale features in the mirror while dripping all over the place, the curly haired detective tried to sum up every single stupid thing he'd manage to compile over the last twelve hours.

Deciding that was making his head hurt more, he finally stopped, dressed and, with his hand on the doorknob, drew in a deep breath to brace himself.

"Hey Hutch," he called out hoarsely as he stepped outside the bathroom, "I'm sorry `bout yelling at ya, really, I'm just cran... Hutch?" he asked, finding the kitchen empty.

"In here," an icy cold voice replied, making the dark man whirl around towards the living room, wincing at his head's reminder about sudden movements.

'Uh uh,' Starsky thought while slowly strolling in the direction his partner's voice had come from. For a second, irrational fear that Hutch may have already found out about everything grabbed him, but he shook it off quickly, knowing that wasn't possible.

"Hey, buddy, about earlier..." he started when entering the room, but trailed off at the sight of his partner standing in the middle of the room with an expression in the light blue eyes he'd last seen in the interrogation room. "Uh... Hutch?"

"Sit down."

Starsky opened his mouth for a reply, but something in his friend's eyes told him it'd be wiser to simply obey. So easing himself down on the couch, trying to give few clue to his hurting ribs, he looked at the two steaming cups on the coffee table, arching his lips to an unsure smile.

"Hey, coffee, great. You're beautiful, Hu..." Only moving his hand, Hutch held up the tape from behind his back. "...tch, I can explain."

Looking ready to jump into his partner's face, Hutch drew in a deep, calming breath. "You know, you did say it out loud, buddy," he said very patiently in a voice that told Starsky, more than anything else, that he was in trouble this time. Big trouble. "And yes," the blond went on, "you should have destroyed the fucking tape."

"That's what I thought," the smaller man grinned, but quickly bowed his head as his partner's piercing glare seemed to scald his face. He felt eerily reminded of the day he'd ran away from home to live in the woods after a particularly nasty fight with his father. Only back then, there'd been no woods in downtown New York.

When he'd finally been brought home by some of his father's colleagues, the man looked just as Hutch looked right now.Gee, I hope he's not gonna tan my hide... What the hell am I thinking?! he wondered with a frown. I'm not still high, am I? No, whatever was left is now-

"Starsk, I'm talking to you!"

"Huh?! Starsky replied, startled, snapping his head up to look at his partner, and winced. "`M sorry. Sorry, Hutch. What d'you say?"

The blond sighed, stopping his pacing. Starsky wondered when he'd started that, but he sure was grateful it seemed to be over because it was making him feel dizzy again.

"I asked if you're okay," Hutch said, his voice soft all of a sudden, the concern in his light blue eyes almost too much for Starsky to endure.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he hurried to assure. "Just peach-"

"There's a three and a half minutes silence on this tape," Hutch interrupted him, anger edging the gentleness of his voice. "I took the time. And you know what's funny about it?"

"Uh... that you didn't just press the forward but-"

"It occurs right after your screaming for dear life," Hutch shook his head as if correcting a student. "Care to tell me what the hell happened?!"

At the smaller man's wince, he forced himself to calm down again, lowering his voice as he crouched down in front of Starsky, taking a closer look at the bluish bruise on his face.

"You were unconscious."

"Not long," Starsky replied, swatting away Hutch's careful hand. "I'm okay, Hutch. Just took a little flight. Big deal."

"Big deal?!" Hutch shot back, standing up as if driven by rising anger. "You sounded terrified!"

"Yeah, well, I exaggerated. For my audience," he joked half-heartedly, but attempts at humor were lost on Hutch.

"How bad is it? Truth, Starsk."

The smaller man opened his mouth instantly, but at meeting his partner's gaze thought differently about playing things down. Hutch was as mad as he could possibly get with Starsky, and he had yet to find out about the drugs.

"Head hurts," Starsky mumbled finally, avoiding looking up into his friend's narrowing eyes.

"Think you're concussed?"

"I... Yep."

"Pain killers helped?" Hutch asked, just a tad to innocently for Starsky's liking.

"Yeah," the darker man answered, stretching the word as if it was a question. "A bit," he added, when Hutch gave no sign of him knowing more about pills than that.

"Okay. Where else are you hurt?"

Starsky sighed. "Left side. Look, Hutch-"

"Up," Hutch cut him off, emphasizing the order with a small gesture.

"Oh, c´mon, I'm fi-"

"Up!"

Defeated, Starsky rose, unsuccessfully suppressing a wince at the movement. At the mere prospect of Hutch touching the sore spots, he flinched away.

"Easy," Hutch soothed, instantly going into partner mode as he ever so carefully lifted Starsky's t-shirt. "Easy, `m just gonna take a loo..." He whistled softly at the sight of mottled greenish bruises. "Nice."

"It looks worse than it is," Starsky tried to explain to the back of the blond head. "Nothing's broken, I already che... Ow!"

"Guess you're right, buddy," Hutch nodded as he drew his hand away again. Throwing his friend a dirty look, Starsky jerked his shirt back down, holding the sore area for a moment.

"Glad your diagnosis matches mine, Dr. Hutchinson."

"Don't get cute with me just now," Hutch said, looking serious. "We're not through here."

You have no idea, Starsky thought, but sat down on the couch silently.

"I want to know exactly what happened," Hutch said, folding his arms across his chest, while once more looking down at his friend. "And I want to know when it happened."

Cursing inwardly, Starsky started to quickly fill in the gaps in Hutch's knowledge of the past night, including his accident that, as he didn't miss to point out, "was absolutely in no possible way my fault".

When he came to Donnell's mention of the racer who'd died there, Hutch nodded. "I've already called Gar. He's gonna run a check on that and call us back when he finds something."

After Starsky had finished, Hutch finally sat down on the coffee table across from his partner, and tilted his head to one side expectantly. "Weeell," he said, stretching the word. "So much about yesterday."

Starsky sighed deeply, wincing curtly at the throbbing inside his head. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I shoulda called you, blintz, I'm sorry."

"Save that for later," the blond replied, though his tone softened as he saw the exhaustion working into Starsky's eyes. "First I'd like to know where you spent all day. Without the mike, I might add," he said with a small nod towards the mike lying on a nearby board. "Not to mention in no fighting or racing shape. Starsk, where were you?"

"Dead Men's Beach," came the reply. "I met Donnell. He called me up this morning, and I went to meet him-"

"Without the mike?"

"Uh," Starsky stuttered, his gaze traveling down his chest and side, before meeting his friend's understanding eyes again, embarrassed. "Uhm..."

Hutch sighed, tiredly rubbing his eyes." You belong in bed, Starsk. `kay, what happened?" A sudden idea hit him, and he peeked at his friend over his fingers. "Oh god, don't tell me Donnell confessed everything without you wearing the mike."

If possible, Starsky paled a little more. "N-ot directly, he didn't. It was more of a, uhm, friendly conversation between... uh... We couldn't have used it, anyway," he quickly said as Hutch's face fell, "in court, I mean. Every first-year law student would have been able to tear it apart in front of our eyes. Really. He just talked about gigs and fun stuff and you know. Could've meant anything. I know it was stupid, Hutch, okay?"

Nodding his head, Hutch briefly brushed his friend's knee, then asked, "Why'd he called you out there in the first place?"

"Huh? Oh," Starsky grinned at the memory, "you remember Murph? Kid who crashed into me on the slide? Yeah, Donny wanted to make sure I wouldn't, you know, blow him away."

At Hutch's widening eyes, he chuckled. "It was kinda funny, you know."

Since the curly haired man's joy was infectious, Hutch found himself smiling against his will. "I can imagine. So-you gonna let him live?"

Starsky shrugged casually. "Thought about sending him a dead bird," he grinned. "His car has those wings on the side."

Laughing out loud, Hutch shook his head. "Aw, that's cold, buddy. I think you've been Spencer Keyes for too long."

"I'm pretty convincing, huh?" the smaller man grinned self-contently. "You should've seen the Don's face when I favor-raced him for Fraggie's murder."

The laugh actually dying in his throat, Hutch coughed at the answer. "You what-raced him for what?!"

"Favor-raced," Starsky explained matter-of-factly. "We used to do that when I was a kid. Instead of money, you drive for-"

"Favors."

"Yep."

"So, how many hits did you win when you were 15?" the blond asked, his voice thick with sarcasm.

"That's so funny, Hutch. But if you'd taken the time to think, you might have found that to be a carefully laid-out plan."

Hutch closed his eyes briefly, bowing his head, before peeking up at Starsky again. "Starsk-"

"Because," Starsky lectured, ignoring him, "now we have a witness who will confess, when he hears that his great role-model won his assassination in a... What?!" he asked, exasperated, at Hutch's slow shake of his head. "Course he will!"

"And why?" Hutch asked, hating what he had to do to his friend.

"What d'you mean, 'why'?!" Starsky replied. "Because we... don't have it on tape," he finished his sentence in a fading voice as his eyes wandered over to the forgotten mike. "I hate myself."

"Hey, don't let this get you down," Hutch offered, rattling Starsky's knee as his partner let his head fall down into his hands. "It was a good shot nevertheless. You can still work with that. It was good work."

"Ya think?" Starsky asked, disappointed at himself. He let his hands fell back into his lap, and sat with his head down, feeling utterly miserable as the short rush of adrenalin left him worn out. His head hurt. His side hurt. And he still felt more than just a little nauseous and nervous. All he wanted to do was lie down in a real bed and sleep for a week.

"Yes," Hutch nodded with an encouraging smile, but you know something, Starsk?"

"What?"

The blond tilted his head with an apologetic expression on his features as he twisted the corners of his mouth. "I still have to yell at you for driving a race when you were concussed and bruised up."

Starsky looked at him blankly, one of his best sick-puppy-looks sinking in slowly. "Really?"

Hutch nodded sadly. "Yep."

"`Kay, give it to me straight."

Without changing neither his expression nor tone of voice, Hutch informed his partner that he was the "most irritating, irresponsible person in the world."

"`M sorry," Starsky mumbled.

"I hope so," Hutch chuckled at his friend's pitiful expression and stood, placing a warm hand on Starsky's shoulder. All anger forgotten, worry took over again as he studied the strained look on his partner's face and his slumped shoulders. "C'mon, Gordo, you look beat. Go to bed. I'll wake you when Gar calls."

"Hmnyeah," Starsky muttered and let himself been gently pushed back down onto the couch, "hey blintz, sorry you had to sleep sitting up."

Hutch raised his brows, totally surprised. "How d'you... Oh, never mind. Just close, your eyes buddy. D'you want some more of your natural, non-chemical pain kil-"

"No!" Starsky replied, his eyes snapping open.

The second he met Hutch's gaze; he knew he'd made a mistake.

"I-I mean, uhm... I'm perfectly f-"

"Starsk, look at me." Hutch's voice had lost all the softness it'd just gained, in fact, Starsky found with dismay; it'd taken on a rather frantic tinge.

When the smaller man didn't immediately obey, Hutch gently, but determinedly, reached out and cupped Starsky's chin. Bending his head back on the cushion, just enough for him to get a clear look into his eyes.

"H-hey Hutch, d-don't get mad, huh? I wanted to tell you, but, uhm-"

"What did you take?" the blond interrupted him, no anger evident in his voice, just deep, fear-filled concern.

"I don't know, something, this new stuff, I ... Hutch, let me up, `kay?"

Hesitantly following the request, Hutch backed away from his friend enough for Starsky to sit up in the corner of the couch, looking a little ashamed of himself. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't want you to freak out."

"Freak out?!" Hutch repeated in a high-pitched voice. "You're high, and I'm not allowed to freak out over that?!"

"First of all," Starsky said patiently, "I'm not high."

"Buddy, there's no blue left in your eyes."

"Well, `kay, so I've been high, but that was hours ago, and as you witnessed," He added with a gesture in the direction of the bathroom, "I did something about it."

Hutch wasn't even listening. In a sudden motion, he jumped from the couch, hurried into the kitchen and returned with the bottle of painkillers. Staring at his partner as he held it out like a weapon. "Did you take those after you..."

Starsky nodded, making a face at his own stupidity. "I sorta kinda didn't thi-"

"Damn it, Starsk!!!" Hutch yelled, throwing the bottle against a far wall.

"Hutch!" Starsky called out in startled surprise, but winced at the pain in his head.

"I don't believe you!" the blond went on ranting, all the while being followed by his friend's disbelieving gaze. Starsky was pretty sure he'd never seen Hutch this mad at him. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"

As a 'with me?!'-Answer, Starsky glanced over to where the broken bottle lay on the ground.

Hutch didn't see it. "First you race in work day traffic, then you almost crash into a candy bar on wheels and now you drive around concussed and get high?! Did it occur to you only once that maybe you could've gotten rid of that stuff before driving all the way home--through daytime traffic, I might add--and zonk yourself out with pain killers?!"

The mention of the daytime traffic he'd entered made Starsky's stomach turn a little. Hutch was right. He'd been so absolutely and utterly irresponsible, he couldn't believe it himself. Well, he could, when he admitted that he'd really been out of it. High. Careless. Reckless. Zonked.

"If those had been aspirin, you may be dead by now!" Hutch wasn't through with his yelling, and Starsky eyed him with quiet awe. He really never had seen his partner this furious. "So beside the fact that you drove with a head injury, which alone is..." At the lack of words, Hutch closed his eyes and paused to catch his breath.

"You know," he said quietly, in a voice that actually hurt, "maybe you should reconsider your priorities, partner."

"Hey!" Starsky protested. Enough was enough. Jumping to his feet, he started defending himself. "That's unfair! It was stupid taking the stuff, I know, but what was there to do about it? Huh? Throw up in the car?! Not accept? You know that'd have looked rather suspicious. `Sides, I was fine before that. I've driven with concussions befo-"

"Not when I was there!" Hutch interrupted him, obviously having gathered enough air to pick up the loud fight again. "Which is exactly my point. You were injured, Starsk! Why the hell didn't you call me?! Huh?! D'you have any idea what I-I..." For the second time that day, he bit off the rest of a sentence to get his stuttering under control.

A flash of guilt grabbed Starsky like hot fingers, for he knew his partner's stutter only appeared when he was really stressed.

"You were unconscious for three and a half minutes, for Christ's Sake! And what d'you do when you woke up?! Drove home!!!"

"Yeah, well, what d'you want me to do, stay there?!" Starsky yelled back, ignoring the fierce pain in his skull. Though he knew Hutch was right about everything, being yelled at alone was enough to piss him off.

"Call me!" Hutch shot back. "On the way back to the city there are how many phone booths?! But NO, you had to drive all the way back to town! What if you'd have hit that thick skull of yours just a little harder, huh? What if you'd have passed out again? No one would have known where to look for you! You're supposed to tell me where you are! I'm supposed to know where you a-"

"What am I, a kid?! I can take care of things on my own, y´kn-"

"No, you're an undercover cop!!!" Hutch yelled over his words, efficiently shutting Starsky up. "And at the moment you're doing nothin' but screwing up, pal!"

The words were out before he could help it, and he regretted them instantly.

Panting slightly, both detectives glared at each other silently. Hutch could see the injury sinking into unnatural bright eyes; his anger vanished like it'd never been there. Suddenly it seemed ridiculous that he'd ever scream at Starsky like that.

The darker man was the first to break the eye contact, his head dropping as the tension left his body. "I'm sorry," he muttered, and slowly made his way to the couch again, feeling his knees starting to get wobbly.

When he passed Hutch, the blond took his arm gently, guiding him the last few steps. He too wanted to apologize, but bit his lower lip, restraining himself from actually saying the words.

Starsky said with his shoulders slumped, inspecting the ground between his feet. "You're right, Hutch, shoulda called you. I'm sorry."

"Hey," Hutch called out, softly touching Starsky's shoulder until the smaller man looked up. The blond couldn't help thinking he still looked high, the handsome features unnaturally smoothed by the sad expression in his too wide eyes.

"Are you alright?"

Starsky took a moment to actually hear everything the question included, and then arched his lips to a slight smile. "Yeah. Bit dizzy."

"Okay, how `bout you try to get some rest, while we wait for Gar to call? I'll see if I can get myself to make you something to eat in that completely white kitchen. That a plan?"

"Good one," Starsky nodded, his body tilting to one side, until Hutch caught him and guided him the rest of the way down, then stood to lift Starsky's legs onto the couch too.

When he finally covered him with a blanket, the curly headed man was already dead to the world.

 

****

 

Hutch let Starsky sleep till the sun finally set outside the large windows. The exhausted and injured detective had slept right through Gary Kellerman's call, a short trip Hutch had made to the precinct, to a small shop around the corner and back, and seemingly hadn't even moved in his slumber.

When entering the living room, bags of groceries and a thin file in hand, Hutch had frowned at the too still figure, and crouched down beside the couch carefully, studying his friend closely in his sleep.

"Starsk?" he'd whispered softly, brushing a gentle hand against the other's cheek. "Hey, buddy, wake up for a sec. Starsky."

"Hmnhuh?" had come the sleepy reply, and too very heavy lids had been lifted with visible effort, an unfocused glance meeting Hutch's concerned one. "Hush?"

"Yeah, right here, buddy. It's okay. Just wanted to check on your head," the blond had added, smiling a little at his friend, who seemed willing to be more alert, but not yet really able to.

"Hm-mm," the sleepy detective had nodded as if wanting to show he understood the necessity of that, and had mumbled, "`M sorry, Hutch."

Thinking that if he was coherent enough to recall their fight, his concussion and short-lived chemical encounter couldn't have frightening, lasting effects, Hutch had smiled and patted his partner's shoulder lightly.

"It's okay, buddy, `s okay. Go back to sleep," he'd encouraged soothingly. "I'll wake you again in a few hours. Just rest some more, okay?"

"Mnuhkay," Starsky had mumbled, his eyes closing as if on command.

That had been almost three hours ago, and when the blond softly roused his friend for the second time, Starsky seemed much more alert.

Blinking his eyes open, he yawned loudly, rubbed his face and cast his waiting partner an utterly miserable look. "Shoot me. Please."

Smiling sympathetically, Hutch stood up from his crouched position, looking down at his friend. "Head?"

"Hm-mm."

"Head and side?"

"Hm-mm."

"Coffee? Food?" He wriggled his brows a little in a Starsky-like manner. "Grassy pain-killers with natural dopies?"

A slight laugh broke free as Starsky gave a grateful nod. A definite yes on all three offers.

"`Kay, buddy boy, rise and shine," Hutch said, dragging the blanket off the smaller man and turned for the kitchen.

After a moment, his friend shuffled through the door behind him, wrapped in his blanket. With slumped shoulders, he headed straight for the table to sit down, staring at the steaming cup of coffee in front of him for a second, before his mind was ready to tell him what he had to do with it.

"Look up, buddy," Hutch's voice drew his attention towards the blond next to him, and obeying, he found his friend closely examining his eyes for a brief moment.

Satisfied with the result, Hutch then placed two of the pain pills next to his friend's cup. Starsky swallowed them silently, then watched Hutch pat his head like a contend parent, and turn to produce a plate with still hot scrambled eggs to put in front of his partner. "There you go."

"Aw, Hutch," the curly headed man whined, "you can't make me breakfast when I was such a jerk!"

Knowing Starsky like he did, the blond was aware the other man meant what he was saying. Feeling genuinely uneasy about being treated nice after having screwed up, undeserving. Actually, that was what made getting along with him after a fight so easy. A quality not to be underestimated, Hutch thought and leaned against the breakfast bar, presenting Starsky with a smile.

"First of all, it's dinner, dummy. And then, I figure you were entitled, was probably pure luck you woke up at all."

"I really didn't mean-"

"I know, buddy," Hutch hurried to cut him off, "no sweat, it's okay. Working undercover can get you into stuff like that, I understand. And I'm sorry I yelled at you like that. It's just... You scared the hell outta me. Don't you ever pull something like that again, y'hear me?"

Starsky played with his food, looking so much like a little boy an affectionate smile crossed the blond's lips.

"Seem to hear that a lot lately," the smaller man mumbled, shoving a piece of egg from one side of his plate to the other.

"Yeah, well, this is the last time I let you do something like this alone, and now stop playing with your food and eat it. Jeez."

Showing his partner a lopsided grin, Starsky finally started eating happily, his gaze falling upon the file Hutch had brought with him from the precinct.

Drawing it closer so he could read the title, he asked, "Edward N. Stewart? What's this?"

"That's the guy who died in the 'accident' your pal Donny told you about," Hutch explained, and strolled over to also sit down at the table. Bending his head so he could look at the file, Starsky had now opened. "Apparently," he continued, "what the Don calls 'accident', most people would consider murder. The kid's brakes were messed with. Driving down that slide, he had no chance. Of course they never could nail down any suspect, since they don't have proof that the other drivers were even there."

Starsky nodded absently, while studying the file. At the picture of Stewart's crashed car, he smiled grimly. It was badly battered, but still recognizable as a once shiny white Torino with two black stripes running from the hood over the sides to the back.

"Look, Hutch, a striped egg."

"Yeah, that's what I thought," the blond nodded. "You know something, Starsk, the deeper I get into this case, the more I appreciate your taste in cars. It's so... refreshingly simple."

"Funny, blintz. Just because your pathetic noisy heap looks like you got it from Teddy Roosevel..." As he turned another page in the file, a picture of Edward N. Stewart himself caught his attention, and his voice trailed off in surprise.

"Starsk?"

"Well, I'll be... That deavy, little... He tricked me," he told his partner with a dumbfounded grin as if actually amused at that discovery. "The little sku-"

"Who?" Hutch asked, confused. "I'm not with you here, buddy. You know that kid?" He pointed at the picture.

"Know his little brother," Starsky replied, studying the photo closer. "Frag... The Fraggle. Donnell told me his brother once belonged to..." he muttered to himself. "Why didn't I think of that earlier?!"

"Isn't that the kid you're supposed to 'take care of'?"

"Yeah," Starsky mumbled, lost in thoughts. When he looked up again, the two detective's eyes met, and both saw the same idea reflected in one another's eyes. "Yeah, he is. You think-"

"Donnell took care of the older Stewart before and now-"

"He wanted to use me to get rid of the kid, before he might find out about it."

Both looking back at the file, they grinned, stating in unison, "And we have proof."

"Okay," Hutch blurted out, excited as he always got when a case seemingly unfolded itself in front of them, "this kid-d'you think he'll talk when we confront him with this?"

"Yeah, definitely," Starsky nodded. "They're just kids, Hutch. I think they'd betray their own mother if they believed they were in a corner. This..." He shook his head sadly. "You know, I kinda like the kid. He's fun."

"Oh? That means you're not gonna waste him?"

Despite himself, Starsky grinned. "That's not funny, Hutch. What're we gonna do now, grab him?"

"Hmmm," Hutch said, thinking. "Maybe you should pay your debts, Speedy Spence."

Understanding, Starsky tilted his head to one side. "Ya think?"

 

****

 

Hutch had to hand it to his partner, he had shown some great acting ability throughout the whole operation, the way he dragged the Fraggle, or Nicolas Stewart, out of his place, subtly making sure watching neighbors would notice, was worth an Oscar.

From inside his waiting LTD, the antithesis to the ludicrous vehicle he saw parked in front of the kid's big place, he watched with amusement as his partner and a boyish looking blond kid slowly mad their way over to the GTO. The fear on the poor guy's face was such a give away, Hutch was surprised no one rushed to help or called the cops.

But then, the neighborhood was probably as reserved as it was "good". He felt a familiar cold shudder at the sight of the neatly rowed bungalows and clean streets.

People here minded their own business. And nothing but. He knew that attitude.

Shaking his head slightly to clear it from unwanted memories and rubbing his arms, he watched the GTO drive off slowly. He waited a few minutes, until the other car was out of sight, then followed Starsky to their meeting point in a parking lot near the precinct.

Spotting Starsky and Nicolas Stewart next to the GTO, he came to a halt next to them, leaning out of his window slightly.

"See, that's my partner," Starsky explained. The Fraggle was visibly trembling with fear. "Nothing's gonna happen to you. Didn't I tell you I'm a cop? Hutch, show Fraggie your badge, he doesn't believe me."

Rolling his eyes, Hutch produced his badge to show it to the kid.

"There," Starsky urged. "See? Now stop shaking and get in there, will ya? Jeez."

Laughing amusedly at his friend's annoyed gaze, Hutch reached out to tip the Fraggle's shoulder. "Hey kiddo, get in here. No need to be scared, I just want to talk to you."

"Y-you're n-not..." the young man started, but swallowed back the rest of the sentence as if saying it out loud would tempt the two older men to kill him after all.

"No," Starsky said, unnerved, stretching the word, while shoving the kid over to the LTD's passenger side. "We're not. Get in there." Checking his watch, he slammed the door shut behind the Fraggle, who shrank away from Hutch's friendly smile.

"See you, partner," Starsky said, hurrying back to the GTO and sped off to make it to the Redley's races in time. The plan was to later that night bust the whole group, since it was a Sunday, and the whole inner circle would probably be there. That would give Hutch time enough to talk some sense into Nicolas Stewart, so that they could confront the others with his statements when hauling them in.

Easy.

 

****

 

Two hours later, Hutch sank against the wall outside the interrogation room, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling.

"Kid finally tal-" Gary Kellerman, who happened to stroll by, asked, and Hutch nearly jumped in his face.

"No!"

"Uh, `kay, man, easy," the leading detective said calmingly, raising his hands in front of his body. "Don't bite my head off."

"Sorry, Gar," Hutch muttered, wiping his eyes tiredly. "That guy's getting on my nerves."

"No shit. Hey, maybe you need a break, huh? Want me to get you some coffee?"

"No, I want this damn kid to believe me," Hutch sighed. "You know what's funny? I think he does, he just doesn't want to accept it. Donnell was some sort of hero for him. He can't believe the man killed his brother."

"We don't know if he did that on purpose, Hutch. Could be he just messed with the brakes to-"

"No," Hutch winked, "c'mon, you believe that? He raced Starsky for..." As a sudden thought hit him, he snapped his fingers. "Yes! That's it!"

"That's wha-"

"Tell you later," Hutch cut Kellerman off, rushing back inside the interrogation room Nicolas Stewart was sitting in, looking as scared and confused as a twenty-year-old could, convincing the blond once more of his judgment of the kid's character.

"Nicky," he started, leaning against the closed door, eyeing the younger man intensely.

"Don't call me-" the Fraggle started, but Hutch cut him off sharply.

"Nicolas-I know you're scared. You think of what might happen to you when you talk, but you shouldn't be scared of us."

The Fraggle frowned. "I don't know what you're-"

"Your friend Don, he raced Stars... Spencer for your life, d'you know that? And not for you to keep it in case he'd win."

There was movement behind long blond strays falling over the young man's eyes. Yet, he remained silent.

Taking his chance, Hutch stepped forward till he could lean in closer with his hands on the table. "Donnell won your assassination, Nick. You should be grateful he won against a cop."

"I-I don't belie... You can't prove that."

"Oh no?" Hutch raised his brows. "We have it on tape."

The kid lifted his head slightly, eyeing the detective suspiciously.

"It's the truth, kid. It's all on tape. Including the part where the Don himself says you're one lousy driver when it comes to escape plans."

"Hey!" The protest escaped before the Fraggle could think. Hutch held his breath. "That's not true! Without me, they'd all been long... I-I mean..." he stammered.

Hutch smiled encouragingly. "Come on, Nick, that's the way. You don't want to protect scum like Don, d'you? He killed your brother, we know he did. And he wanted you out of the way too. Why protec-"

"Did he really ordered my..." Nicolas started, and then suddenly grew pale as he thought of something. "Uh uh."

Dread rising, Hutch frowned. "What? 'Uh uh' what, Nick?!"

"Uhm... You figure they all think I'm already dead, what with Curly making a big show out of-"

"Yeah. So?" When Nicolas didn't answer right away, Hutch moved around the table until he looked straight down at the kid. "Donnell told you something? Nick?"

"Uh, well, he... no. Not... directly."

"Damn it, talk!"

"I heard him," Nick answered quickly, scared. "I heard him talk to Riz today about... Well, something about getting rid of Curly. But I didn't think... I thought he meant racing him off the ground!" he called after the blond detective, who was out of the room like a shot.

 

****

 

Starsky's head hurt. His side too. Plus he still felt utterly hung-over, as if he'd partied for a week. That was no condition to win races, and he gave a pathetic performance that night, knowing it.

Like Hutch and he had figured, Redley's bravest were all there, except for the Fraggle of course, and they were obviously having a good time, testing out new stunts and teasing him about his poor driving.

If it hadn't been for his head feeling like it was going to explode, that alone would have raised his suspicion. People didn't tease Spencer Keyes, they feared him.

But with him sitting slumped over his steering wheel most of the time, wincing at the pain and trying to catch his breath, he didn't notice the changes.

"`Ey, Curly, race-race me for a thou?" Donnell's smirk practically woke the more or less dozing detective after a short warm-up race around the ranch.

"Aw kids," Starsky replied, trying his best to sound just pissed, so his voice was clearly embedded by pain, "everything you do they have to copy. What a pest."

"Imitation is the sincerest way of flattery," the younger man wisecracked, leaning out of the driver's window of the Ferrari. "Hey, you okay over there? You kinda match your car."

"Fuck off, will ya, Eric," the detective shot back, truly annoyed as his stomach really did seem to have troubles telling up from down.

"Just worried, `s all," Donnell replied, lifting his hands above his head. "You and the kid had a nice trip earlier?" he added after a pause, as innocently as he'd have asked for the other's opinion about his new seats.

"News travels fast, huh?" Starsky said instead of an answer and finally lifted his head enough to look directly at the younger man. In the dim light of the building and the cars, Donnell's features seemed eerily sharp; his chocolate eyes hollow as bottomless pits.

"Hey," Donnell said matter-of-factly, "it's a small community."

"Must be, considering the reducing speed."

A toothy grin played on the enlightened face. "I love you, man. Have I ever told you that?"

Snorting, Starsky lowered his head again to massage his temples, peeking over his fingers secretly. Two cars had parked behind them. Riz and Murph, also seemingly lost in chitchat.

His gaze discretely wandering over to Donnell again, Starsky felt the unmistakable urge of alarm rise in that particular area of his stomach where his cop instincts obviously were centered. They're just kids, Hutch, his own voice echoed in his ears, in rhythm with the steady throbbing behind his forehead.

Some kids.

"Hey, Donny," he called out for the younger one, slowly emerging from his car as he did so, while unsuccessfully trying to stifle a moan. "Care to lose that thou?"

"You wanna?" Donnell asked back, raising his brows as if surprised, though the arrogant triumph shone on his face like his unnaturally pale skin in the eerie light.

Starsky shrugged. "Best thing to when hung-over, isn't it?"

"Lose a thou?"

"Kick Ferraris."

The kid laughed. "Gee, Curly, what's with you tonight? I thought you were beat?"

Starsky gave a quiet sound as if losing patience. "You want to wise-crack or drive?"

"Hey ma-"

"Your decision. I'm gonna take a leak." With that, he strolled off, over to a more private place around a corner of the building. He counted to ten, turned on tiptoes, crouched down and without ever making; a sound peeked around the corner again.

Three very busy figures surrounded the GTO like insects.

The detective shook his head. Lousy amateurs.

 

****

 

The battered LTD coughed and panted as it was forced to its maximum speed, its owner's foot seemingly attached to the gas pedal by nature.

"Come on, come on!" Hutch urged his car, then frowned suddenly, glancing in the rear-view mirror briefly as if expecting to see someone in the back seat. "Gee, now I'm talking to you! Starsky'd be delighted."

"Ya really think ya can talk this pathetic heap into action, blintz?"his partner's voice appeared in his ears as if the words had really been spoken out loud next to him.

As if reacting, the blond pressed his foot down even harder. The poor vehicle whined as if protesting.

"Oh, shut up!" Hutch chided. "You're a car, so drive!"

A nasty rattle widened his eyes in sudden panic, and as if sensing the nearing end, he forced the last bit of horsepower out of the tired engine. "Don't you give up on me now, dammit! We'll make it in time, you hear me? We'll make it! If you let me down now, I... I... I'm gonna tell Starsk!" he concluded, and watched as he flew past the rusty "Redley's Ranch" sign.

"Shit!"

Whirling around with squealing tires, the LTD raced back down to the sign and onto the bumpy road towards the ranch.

 

****

 

Starsky checked his watch. What the hell is taking you so long, Hutch?

For the hundredth time during his four-minutes stay behind the ranch, he cursed himself for having left his gun in the GTO. He never left his gun. And the very last place he'd leave it was in the goddamned CAR!

You're really out of it, Davy, he figured. Deadly out of it. No more pain killers for you, no matter how natural they are!

"Hey Curly, you need assistance over there?" Donnell's voice broke through his thoughts. Laughter followed.

Cursing under his breath, Starsky scooped back behind the corner, rose and strolled back to the waiting racers casually, the annoyed expression on his face only partly the result of his acting talents.

"I know what you need, Don," he said, leaning against his car, as Riz and Murph backed away to clear the path for the two other cars. Donnell sat on the hood of the Ferrari, smoking.

"Don't we all?" Murph joked, and the three men laughed.

Starsky almost rolled his eyes. These flakes are so stupid, it's sad. If I was for real, it'd be Redley's latest by now...

Casting the young man an unimpressed look, he said, "Fruitcake", sufficiently reducing the merry laughter to nervous chuckles.

Donnell's grin faded completely, though. His own inner alarm was visibly starting to ring. "Everything's alright?" he asked, failing pathetically at sounding matter-of-factly.

"Peachy," Starsky replied. "So, we're gonna do this thing now? I don't know about you, but I'm beat."

Confidence snaked back into chocolate eyes. "Sure. Le-"

"But come to think of it," Starsky cut him off, circling him until he stood in front of all three of them, "I'd rather use a car where the brakes are intact."

Stunned silence washed over the three kids like sudden rain. Starsky, who'd braced himself for taking a fall at the prospect of them drawing weapons, took a split second to frown at their childish reaction, then finally turned and ran.

"Fuck!" he heard Donnell's voice behind him. "What're you standing there for?! Get him!"

Trying to speed up, he gasped at the clear protests he received from his bruised ribs. Each breath burned in his throat as if he swallowed fire. Yet, he forced himself to ignore his body's insistent pleas to stop and stumbled on. The sound of starting engines reached his ears.

Hutch! You can jump in any time now, partner! Any time!

As if on cue, Hutch did.

 

****

 

Hutch spotted his partner the moment he reached the small hill overlooking Redley's Ranch. In the distance, a bunch of colorful cars parked in an untidy heap in front of a stable, three cars drove off in unison, dust whirling between them like waves. What looked like a ridiculously short distance ahead was a single figure moving further away from them.

Keep on running, Starsk, c'mon! Hutch urged with his thoughts while stepping down once more on the LTD's gas pedal with full force, not daring to slow down for fear the car would simply lay down and die like an old animal once he'd let up.

Not caring about whatever was in his way, the blond raced his fading companion over to the unfair competition that took place near the ranch. Now that he was downhill, he couldn't see Starsky anymore, but he knew his partner didn't stand a chance in this race, considering his condition, not to mention on foot too.

"Keep running, Starsk. Just a little longer, come on," Hutch muttered through gritted teeth as he passed the blurred shapes of two big cars, that both came to sudden halts to stop him. Skidding violently, the LTD jerked out of the way each time.

"Yeah, that's it, baby, come on, don't give up now. Don't give up now. Don't give... Uh... Uh uh!" Turning his gaze forward again, Hutch suddenly found himself staring directly at the broad back of a shiny red Ferrari. "Wohaaaaa!" he screamed, jerking the steering wheel around until he was next to the other car.

A blurry face moved inside the Ferrari, but the blond couldn't see into the other driver's eyes. He was busy trying to look out for his fleeing partner in front him, fearing he might accidentally hit him in the darkness.

It was only when he saw the Ferrari speeding up a little more, that an idea hit him. Swallowing dryly, he grabbed the steering wheel tightly. "Okay, old-timer, this is it. You ready to rumble?"

The LTD answered with an angry roar.

"Thought so," Hutch muttered and without stopping to think about it again, rammed the Ferrari.

The red car skidded to the side, slowing down considerably, while the LTD was pushed into the other side slightly, as well as forward, so that it now was in front of the Ferrari.

Throwing a glance over his shoulder, Hutch steered his racing car in the way of the Ferrari, still ahead. D'you really know what you're doing, Hutchie? a voice inside his head asked frantically, while his tongue seemed to have suddenly found a life of its own.

"Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgoooohhhh...." With a last violent jerk of the steering wheel, he threw the LTD in the Ferrari's way, while fumbling with the driver's door, practically jumping out of the flying car.

He hit the ground with a yelp, and the world turned black.

 

****

 

From where he'd taken cover behind a bush on the road, Starsky stared with wide eyes as his partner was seemingly thrown out of the LTD, flying a few feet through the air, before disappearing behind a large fence.

"HUTCH!"

Ignoring the stabbing pain in his side, the detective sprinted over to the shattered heap of red and brownish metal, stopping only to throw a quick glance inside the Ferrari. Eric Donnell's forehead rested motionless on the steering wheel, his breathing ragged, audibly pain-filled, but there.

Satisfied for the moment and frantic to check on his partner, Starsky ran over to where Hutch had landed. It turned out to be a fenced off pasture.

"Hutch! Hutch!" Starsky yelled at the sight of the still figure of his friend sprawled on the grassy ground. Practically falling to his knees next to him, he hesitated in fear before gently brushing against his neck. "Oh my god, Hutch! Babe, c'mon, talk to me. Hutch?"

"Stop... yelling," a shaky whisper reached his ears. It was the most beautiful sound Starsky had ever heard.

"Hutch, you alright? Hey, can you move? Where're you hurt? I can't believe you jump-"

"Starsk," Hutch pleaded, rolling over onto his back, wincing. "I told you... to... stop... yelling!" he panted, then coughed.

"Sorry," Starsky hurried to say, his voice nonetheless lower. He was so shaken up that the hands he stroked back the blond hair with were trembling.

Hutch rolled his eyes, but smiled at the wide, concerned blue eyes. "Y'okay, buddy?" he asked and coughed again.

"Am I okay?!" the curly headed man shot back. "I'm not the one who just took a flight here, James Dean. Are you alright?"

Hutch looked at him quietly for a moment. "What kind of a question is that, Starsk?"

"Uh... A stupid one," Starsky smiled, reaching out as Hutch struggled to sit up. Now that he saw that his friend seemed relatively unscathed, apart from probably being one large bruise, he allowed himself to grin in utter relief.

"Congrats, Blondie. You beat a Ferrari." Looking over his shoulder while steadying Hutch with both hands, he chuckled, "To death."

Sirens wailed in the distance, accompanied by the sounds of engines being started. The ground cleared quickly.

"Aw Starsk, look at my car," Hutch whined, slowly getting his footing with Starsky's help and took a tentative step in the direction of what was left of the LTD.

"Yeah," his partner nodded in sympathy, reaching out to steady Hutch again, more for his own comfort than the blond's, "`bout time you did something `bout it. I'm proud of you."

At Hutch's miserable glance, he laughed, guiding the taller man towards the arriving back up.

 

****

 

"Starsk, how were we gonna get back to the precinct once you handed over the avocado?" Hutch asked, when they sat in the GTO two days later, on their way to RD. Their colleague's delight at the final solution of their case had quickly turned into impatient anger when Starsky had come up with one lame excuse after another why it wasn't the right time to hand his undercover car over just now.

It took a direct order from Dobey to finally make the curly haired detective give up, and up until that order, he'd sighed all the way. Now, though, a sudden sparkle shone in his midnight blues, and he presented his partner with a grin that made the blond's inner Starsky-alarm go off like hell.

"That's a surprise," the smaller man answered in clear delight.

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"You'll love it," Starsky hurried to assure his partner.

"That's what I doubt."

Only minutes after that muttered reply, Ken Hutchinson found himself face to hood with said surprise.

"Starsky... I..."

"Hey, buddy, you don't have to thank me," Starsky beamed at his partner, who yet had to break free from his unmoving stare at the car dominating the wide RD parking lot.

A chocolate colored LTD with thin black lines covering it. A Candy Bar on wheels. The most ridiculous thing Hutch thought he'd EVER seen.

"Don't I?" the blond muttered, still not making any attempt at approaching the ludicrous vehicle. Starsky, on the other hand, sprang from his partner's side, bouncing over to the LTD's side excitedly.

"Isn't this great? I got Merle a picture of Nicolas´! That man is an artist, you know? I mean, look at this!"

"I am," Hutch replied flatly.

"I love this car!" Starsky exclaimed, running an appreciating hand over the LTD's hood.

"Oh yeah?" Hutch asked, hopefully. "Why don't you take it then?"

Starsky stopped in his excited dance around the car, turning around to throw Hutch a look as if the blond had just told him to jump from a building. "What, and betray the tomato?" he asked in fake shock, and then grinned amusedly. "No way, Blondie. `Sides, chocolate's more your style. Plus," he added, laying one arm around the blond's visibly slumped shoulders, "it's your favorite brand."

"Hm," Hutch grunted, more a submitting sound than a reply to Starsky's statement.

"Hm-mm-mm-mm-mm!" Starsky hummed, letting go off Hutch to stand beside the Candy Bar with a happy grin. "And I know a perfect place to inaugurate it." He wriggled his brows.

Hutch frowned, thought, understood and shook his head curtly.

"Aw, c'mon, Hutch, it's gonna be fun!"

"I'm not going on that slide, Starsk. Not a snowball's chance in hell."

"You'll love it!"

"I listened to the tape, buddy. I nearly had to throw up at the mere sounds of that slide."

"Well," Starsky insisted, "you obviously didn't listen to the wohee-part!"

"Guess I couldn't hear that over someone screaming in terror."

Rolling his eyes, Starsky stepped closer, grabbing both of Hutch's arms in an attempt to drag him over to the LTD. "Come on, blintz. Don't be chicken! I promise I won't push you down."

Suddenly becoming aware of something behind his rambling partner, Hutch quickly tore his gaze back to Starsky, an idea working into his suddenly sparkling eyes. "`Kay buddy," he said, "I'll do it."

Starsky stared at him, dumbfounded. "You serious?!"

Hutch nodded, lifting his index finger. "On one condition."

The sudden child-like joy in the midnight blues giving room for suspicion, the curly headed man frowned. "What?"

"You favor-race me for it."

The darker man's chin dropped. "Huh?!"

"You heard me."

"Y-you wanna race me?! With the Candy Bar?!"

"Yep. Let's say-across the lot," Hutch said after looking over the nearly empty parking lot.

Slowly, a wide grin spread on Starsky's lips as he gathered his wits. "And when I've won, you'll take that sli- -"

"That's 'if I win', buddy boy."

"Yeah," Starsky laughed. "Right. So what if you win?"

Rolling his eyes at the wisecrack, Hutch thought, then smiled evilly. "My choice of lunch. For a month."

"Sure thing, Blondie," Starsky grinned, adding with a chuckle, "Why not your car for a month?"

Hutch's smile only grew. "Okay. Car, food--and jogging."

"Hey, whatever, blintz," Starsky nodded amusedly and turned when Hutch shrugged and got inside the LTD, throwing his friend a parting grin over his shoulder.

"I can't wait to see y..." Starsky started, but trailed off when having turned around fully. The grin vanished from his face. Shock took over.

"Wh-where's my car?"

"Oh, the avocado, you mean?" Hutch asked innocently as he started the LTD's engine. "They just collected it. I'm sure you can go say goodbye later. But first, we have some unfinished business here, right? You want me to give you a little start?"

"I... Y-you..."

"Figured you wouldn't," Hutch grinned. "See you at the finish line, partner."

With that, he winked, laughed and sped off.

 

THE END

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