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The elevator doors opened and Grimes and his men moved quietly on the hotel floor, their movements were so fluid and stealthy, that it was almost submarine-like. Now, for the first time since Carlisle’s arrival, the hallway outside the penthouse door was unmanned. The tracks from where the two guards had been dragged into the closet were still visible outside the door.

One of the henchmen covered over the tracks with his shoe, then opened the door to the supply room closet and looked in. There were both Federal agents, sitting bound and gagged, their backs braced against each other. Their faces reflected both embarrassment and terror. The shorter one, Phil, had an ugly black eye, and the other one, James, sported a busted nose. The man who opened the door winked at them and then closed it, leaving them again in pitch darkness.

The elevator’s bell alerted Grimes and his men that someone was coming up. He silently and quickly directed two of his men to stand outside Carlisle’s suite, while the other men followed him to a spot where they wouldn’t be seen. The elevator doors opened and let Starsky, Hutch, Agent Costagravas and Carlisle out. Two new agents let them in using the set of keys they’d removed from the real agents. Bruno stepped inside and checked the room thoroughly before letting Carlisle and the detectives inside. He greeted Cleo, who was sitting inside on the sofa waiting for them. When they were all safely in, he closed the door securely and the bogus agents took their places outside.

Not long after they were inside, there was a knock at the door. Bruno moved towards it, removing his weapon from his shoulder holster and bracing his back against the wall. "Who is it?" he asked.

"It’s Agent Seymour, I’m told you’re needed downstairs."

Bruno looked at both detectives, and they returned his gaze. "I’m gonna need the code," he demanded.

The men outside the door looked at Grimes and shrugged. Grimes raised his hand and handed one of them a shotgun.

"Use this." He ordered.

The second man took the gun and motioned for his associate to step aside.

Costagravas was still waiting at the door for some direction from the two detectives. Hutch and his partner pulled their guns and held them at the ready. The blond panned the room hoping for something large enough to take shelter behind, his eyes locked on the white divan where Cleo was sitting.

"Cleo, come over here." he whispered.

She hunched down and hustled over to him, her eyes wide.

"I want you to stay out of sight. I don’t know what these guys are going to do and I don’t want you or Carlisle to get hurt."

A chill of fear washed over her. She was afraid, not only for herself but also for him. "What are you going to do?"

"We’ll have to wait for them to make the first move. There’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do until that happens."

Starsky was doing some fast figuring in his head himself about what their options might be. The bad guys could break the door down and rush them, or they could try entering from one of other suites and get in through the balcony. Or, he and Hutch could try inviting them in and take their chances. None of these options seemed guaranteed. If they were rushed, there was no telling who might be hit. If they tried to enter from somewhere else besides the door, Bruno, Hutch and he would have a better chance of knocking them off one by one, but the odds that they would try that were slim to none. The best thing would be for the three of them to put up a united front, and let them in through the front door.

Starsky motioned to Bruno, who was still waiting at the front door for instruction. "Okay, big guy, I’m going to count to three. When I get to there, open the door and get out of the way! You got that?"

Bruno looked at him, a little scared. "You sure about this?"

Starsky nodded and turned to Hutch, who was standing ready with his weapon steadied on the back of the divan, waiting.

"Ya ready?" Starsky asked him.

"No, but go ahead anyway." Hutch answered.

"One--two--three!" Starsky started a slow count in tandem with the shooter outside. Unbeknownst to the detective, a twelve-gauge shotgun was being aimed on the other side of the door. But this was no ordinary shotgun, they were using very special ammunition, known in criminal circles as Door Dusters, a very dense, compressed powdered metal that lays waste to any lock or door hinge.

Right at the count of three, the door was rocked off its hinges by the concentrated blast. The impact sent Bruno soaring backwards against the wall across from Starsky. His weapon flew up in the air and landed about two inches away from his feet. The dark-haired detective tried desperately to check the condition of the felled man without exposing himself to danger. From the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing appeared regular, but shallow.

Hutch ducked behind the divan and dropped to the floor. "Hey, you okay over there?"

"Just peachy." Starsky answered, his voice shaking.

"Is the big guy okay?"

"He’s still breathin’. Looks like he’s just unconscious." He pulled the safety off his gun and braced himself.

Hutch nodded and went quiet. Once the smoke had dissipated and the area was secured, Grimes walked in.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen. I do have a fondness for making a dramatic entrance. Forgive me. I just regret it had to be so loud."

Hutch’s head came up over the couch. "Who are you? He asked calmly, his gun aimed in Grimes’s direction.

"My name is Crandall Grimes, I work for Vincent Bartok. You must be Detective Hutchinson. You have a partner somewhere, a Detective Starsky, isn’t that right?"

The blond didn’t let Grimes’s revelation unsettle him. "You seem to know us, but we don’t know anything about you. What do you want?" he demanded.

"I believe you already know what I want."

"I’m confused, did you think you could just blow your way in here and we’d let you take him without a fight?"

"No, not at all. I expected you and your people would be valiant to the end."

By now, Grimes’s men had assembled in the foyer and were positioning themselves in the central area near the vestibule. So far Starsky had not been forced to reveal his exact location. All he needed was the right moment to catch them unawares.

"That said, if you were counting on being rescued by the Calvary, please, please put it out of your minds. My men and I have taken every precaution to see that we’re not disturbed during these negotiations," he stated.

Hutchinson could make out at least five armed men standing in the doorway, and there appeared to be more in the hallway. Fortunately, he was still able to make eye contact with his partner from where he was positioned. He didn’t think he would have any trouble signaling his partner when it was time for them to make a move.

"This can be very difficult, or very easy. It’s up to you. We have all the time in the world, gentlemen.

----

When the explosion happened, Carlisle and Maxine quickly beat a hasty retreat into the safety of Carlisle’s bedroom closet. They were both holding their breath as they waited for the outcome of the gun blast they’d heard. It was pitch dark inside and it seemed an eternity before they heard another sound.

"I don’t hear anything." Carlisle said, sweat beading on his forehead. He looked nervous for the first time since he’d been secreted away. "What do you think is happening?"

"I don’t know…but I’m going to find out."

Maxine got to her feet and carefully slid the closet door open, a sliver of sunlight beamed through, partially illuminating Carlisle’s face. He put a cautioning hand on her forearm. "Where are you going?"

"I’m going to see if they need any help."

"Hey, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. After all, they’re cops, they know what they’re doing."

She hesitated a moment. "Even cops can use help," she answered. "Stay here, and don’t move."

Carlisle shut the closet door and Maxine inched quietly toward the open door of the bedroom. She could hear the deep voices of men in the background, but she couldn’t tell if they belonged to the two detectives, or to the men who’d come for Carlisle. She rushed over to the wall and pushed her back against it, straining to see if she could hear Hutch’s voice. She tried to calm her breathing and racing heart long enough to make out his composed timbre among the rest. Once she was able to single it out, she heard a hint of tension in it.

"Give it up, Grimes! There’ll be police backup here in two minutes!" Hutch was bluffing and he knew it. He hoped Grimes wouldn’t notice.

"I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, officer."

Starsky piped in from the opposite side of the room, surprising them both. "Whaddya talkin' about?"

Grimes aimed his gun slowly in Starsky’s direction, he’d known there were two detectives, he just wasn’t sure where the second one was. Now he knew. "My men have the briefing room and its occupants detained. There will be no SWAT team or FBI or police backup to save you. If you want to get out of here with your lives, I strongly suggest that you and your partner cooperate."

Hutch was weighing in his head the likelihood that these guys really had the firepower they claimed, or whether they were just blowing smoke. He caught a glimpse of Agent Costagravas lying unconscious on the carpet near his partner. If they could put a big guy like that down, then he and Starsky would be playthings.

"What do you say, gentlemen? Have Carlisle come out and we can end this thing right here and now."

"Nothing doing, chump. You’ll have to get by me and my partner before you even get a chance at Carlisle." Starsky replied.

"All right then. We’ll do it the hard way."

Grimes motioned for his men to advance. One of them took up position against the wall opposite Starsky's, matching his stance down to the positioning of weapon. Another man aimed at the divan, positioning his weapon to fire on the other detective.

"I’ll ask you again politely. Please lay down your weapons and come out."

The two detectives could not comply with Grime’s request, no matter how politely it was broached. So, his pleas met with inaction, Grimes silently motioned for the man aiming at the divan to fire his weapon. He obeyed. The bullet pierced the divan’s white cushion, leaving a sooty black hole in its wake. Hutch’s eyes opened wide as the bullet pierced the back of the chair just above his head. Starsky jumped, his only thought the safety and wellbeing of his partner.

"You okay, buddy?" Starsky inquired, his eyes wide with alarm.

"Um…I think so…" Hutch croaked back in response, his forehead beading with sweat and his heart racing.

Maxine stood paralyzed at the bedroom door. The bullet had come flying through a lower panel of the door, tearing right past her legs and lodging in the wall across from her. She took a breath and closed her eyes. She was shaking, felt the urge to faint, but let it pass, pushing it away and opening her eyes again. She peered out through the crack in the door to see if Hutch was still lying on the floor. He was. He had turned over onto his back and was holding his weapon up and pointed toward the ceiling.

Grimes laughed. "I can’t believe that you are willing to give up your lives for a man you don’t even know."

"You’d better believe it, buddy. We ain’t budging, my partner and me are ready to go out like Butch and Sundance if we have to!" Starsky called out.

"Very well, then."

Grimes pointed his gun at either side of the divan without firing, prompting two of his men to cover both ends. As they came forward, Hutch could see one man’s head above the divan. He positioned his gun, ready for whatever was about to happen. Starsky was able to get a bead on the goon approaching his partner from the left. No sooner had his weapon cleared the wall, than the gunman stationed on the opposite side of it came forward and brought his fists down hard on Starsky’s gun hand, forcing him to drop his Beretta. The expression on his face was one of total surprise as the gunman twisted his arm behind him and pushed him forward.

The henchman now holding his gun to Hutch’s head stood over him. "Get up!" he ordered.

Hutch obeyed, getting up on all fours and laying his gun on the carpet, rising to a standing position with his hands above his head. One of the gunmen walked over and pushed him into his partner, almost knocking him over.

"Thanks." Hutch responded sarcastically.

There were a lot of things a cop could do in the line of duty. One of them was putting their lives on the line to protect an important state’s witness. But Hutch didn’t see the sense in having an innocent bystander buy it as well. He tried reasoning with their leader again.

"What do you hope to accomplish by killing Carlisle?" Hutch questioned. "The FBI’s got plenty to nail you with already!"

"Shut up, cop!" Grimes replied angrily. He walked over to Hutch and stared at him for a moment, reading him. "They don’t have shit, and you know it."

"That’s not what we heard." Starsky insisted.

Grimes was slowly becoming impatient. In his mind, these two cops were mere annoyances on the way to achieving his absolute goal. "You know what would make my day, detective?"

"I haven’t got a clue. Why don’t you tell me?" Hutch answered.

"I would love to just blow your head off." He aimed the gun in his hand right at Hutchinson's forehead. "How would you like that?" Grimes asked, there was a new glint of malice in his eyes.

"I kinda like my face the way it is," Hutch quipped. "It goes with the rest of me so well."

Seeing that his partner was in danger, Starsky tried to make a move to get at Grimes, but he was quickly subdued with a blow to his right side. He grunted and doubled over on the floor next to Hutch’s feet.

"Hey, that wasn’t necessary!" Hutch yelled, moving to defend his partner.

Grimes lowered the gun. "Humph. I hope you’re still cracking wise after we’re done with you."

Hutch shrugged off Grimes’s threat and watched him step away and walk off in the direction of Carlisle’s room. Hutch was now able to kneel down and determine how badly his partner was hurt. "You okay down there?"

"Yeah, just peachy." Starsky croaked weakly.

Hutch reached over to help him up. "Can you stand?"

Starsky nodded and then reached up to grab hold of his partner’s arm. Using Hutch's hand as a crutch to gain some leverage, he stood up and adjusted his leather jacket. He then leaned a shaky elbow on Hutch’s shoulder.

"What’re we gonna do now?" he whispered.

"Your guess is as good as mine." Hutch answered.

Hutch sighed as they watched Grimes and two of his men, those who weren’t guarding them--get closer to Carlisle’s room.

Inside the room, Maxine could see three men coming toward her. What can I do? she thought. I have to distract them, maybe Hutch and Starsky can disarm those men guarding them and Carlisle will be able to make a run for or it.

But how? Then it hit her. The convenience of being able to show a little skin almost always worked to her advantage. She closed the bedroom door carefully and locked it, then raced to the bathroom. She took off everything she was wearing; including her shoes, and then wrapped herself in a bath towel. It didn’t cover much, but the look was suitable for what she needed to accomplish. She checked herself out in the bathroom mirror, and then braced herself for her entrance. "Here goes nothing," she breathed.

She moved toward the bedroom door and unlocked it, slipped out and stood quietly in the room for a moment. Grimes and his two men were in the foreground, having stopped to check their weapons. Hutch and his partner were facing the front door, with two men guarding them and one other watching over the unconscious Bruno.

She steeled herself and let the words come flowing seductively out of her mouth as if she were in a scene from an acting class. "Ken, could you help me? I couldn’t find the soap."

Starsky looked over first, then Hutch. Before she knew it every man in the room had his eyes on her. Hutch’s face was a mixture of confusion and surprise, but Starsky seemed to realize what she was trying to do even before he did.

"Did you try the medicine cabinet?" he answered.

"Er, right." Hutch was ‘with it’, directing his attention to Cleo. "How about underneath the sink?"

"Oh, no. I didn’t, I’ll go check there."

As she turned to go back into the bedroom, Grimes grabbed her by the arm. "Wait a minute, honey, who are you?"

"Who am I?" she asked coyly.

He pulled her away from the door. "It’s not polite to answer a question with a question. Come over here."

She tried moving toward the bathroom. "You wouldn’t deny a girl a shower, would you?"

"Under normal circumstances, no. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Which one of these men do you know?" he asked facetiously.

Hutch spoke up. "That’d be me."

At that, Grimes pulled her closer to him, the heat from his breath hitting her directly in the face as he spoke. "Are you in the altogether underneath this towel?" She trembled as his grip on her tightened. "What say we find out?" She tried wrenching her arm free, but it was no use. With Grimes’s free hand he went to reach under the towel. She flinched in expectation, but the hand never came. Somehow Hutch had managed to grab it, twisting it behind Grimes's back, thus bringing to a halt the unwanted advance.

"Don’t…you...touch her!" Hutch ordered.

"What are you going to do, Officer Hutchinson? Arrest me?" Grimes asked tauntingly.

"I can’t do that right now. But I could probably break your arm in a few choice places."

Maxine stood stock-still, breathing hard, watching them and holding the towel against her, not knowing what to do. Both men’s eyes bore into each other and Hutch would not release his grip. "Let her go. She’s not a part of this."

"Hutch, this is probably not such a hot idea." Starsky warned, still smarting from the blow to his side. Grimes’s men were standing around them like bombs waiting to be detonated.

"Well, if you’ve got any suggestions, partner, I’d sure like to hear ‘em." He wasn’t about to let go of the guy’s arm anytime soon, even with several bad guys aiming guns at them.

"Looks like we have a Mexican standoff here." Grimes announced, chortling. He was enjoying this. Too much.

"I’ll make you a deal. I won’t break your arm if you promise to let the lady go."

"You’ve got some big cahones, Hutchinson. I like that. Sure, I’ll let her go, just ease up on my arm."

"In a minute. Cleo, go get dressed, you’re getting out of here."

She hesitated. "But what about you guys?"

"Don’t worry about us. We’ll be okay." He assured her, still holding on to Grimes tightly. "Go ahead, get dressed."

She shakily drew herself close to him and kissed him softly on the lips. "No matter what happens. You’d better remember this. I love you."

Hutchinson seemed surprised, but pleased. "I…I love you, too. Now go on."

He’d heard those words a few times in his life, uttered by different women on several occasions and under some pretty interesting circumstances, but this one took the cake. The words had special meaning given the fact that they were coming out of the seriousness of the situation, and not being blurted out in the throes of passion. People say anything when they’re in bed with each other, particularly when they don’t know each other that well. He kept that thought in mind as he watched her shapely form disappear into the bedroom. As soon as she was out of sight, he quickly returned his thoughts to his hostage. "As soon as she’s out of here, I’ll let you go. Not before then." He tightened his grip. "You got that?"

Carlisle nodded and smiled unevenly.

Once Maxine had closed the door to the bedroom, she got dressed again. When she was done, she knocked softly on the closet door to alert Carlisle that she was back. "Mr. Carlisle, are you still in there?"

Carlisle slid the door open. "I’m still here. You were gone for a little while. What’s going on out there?"

"They’ve got Ken and Detective Starsky pinned down. If I don’t find a way to get you out of here, they’ll get you, too."

Carlisle stood up, his legs a little cramped from sitting Indian-style for so long. "What do you suggest I do?" He now noticed what she was wearing. "Why...why do you have on my clothes?"

"I’ve got another idea, trust me."

"What is it?"

"Since I’m wearing something of yours, I want you to put on something of mine." She picked up a black cape. "This thing is pretty loose and has some flow to it. It’s also got a hood. Maybe if they can’t see your face, they won’t be able to tell the who's in it."

"You must be joking." he replied. "There’s no way I could pass for a woman."

"We’ve got to try something. Have you got any ideas?"

"No, but it’s never going to work." He answered. But even as he was rebuffing the idea, he was rolling up his trouser legs and putting on the cape that she was handing him.

"Hurry up, they’re expecting me to out there soon."

While she was giving him orders, she never ever let on to Carlisle just how afraid she was that this plan of hers might not work.

-----

Starsky had recovered enough to hold his own now, and Hutch was still holding on to the gang leader’s arm, tightening his grip and bringing forth a groan of pain from him whenever he sensed the gunman beside him were getting a little restless. Both detectives were being set a little on edge by the fact that Cleo hadn’t come out when they’d expected her to.

"What is she doin’ in there?" Starsky asked quizzically.

"Hell if I know." Hutch cupped his right hand to his lips. "Cleo, you all right in there?"

"Yes, I’m coming!" she answered back.

Maxine frantically rushed to put the finishing touches on Carlisle’s disguise. When she done, she stepped back and took a look at him. He wasn’t perfect, but he looked about as female as he was going to get, considering he was five feet nine inches tall and built like a defensive back. "Come on." She urged him, leading him towards the door. "This is your big debut."

"Wish me luck." Carlisle opened the door slowly and the reporter gave him a reassuring nod. He walked out with trepidation, keeping his head covered and bowed.

When she walked out, Starsky’s eye stayed on her oddly cloaked form. His eyes traveled the distance that stretched from her head to her feet. That was when he saw it. The shoes. That wasn’t Cleo. It was Carlisle. They’d switched places and Cleo was probably still in the bedroom. He inched as close to his blond partner as the revolver pointed at his side would allow him, then whispered to him in a cautionary tone, "Whatever you do, partner, don’t let go of him."

"What?" Hutch asked, his voice level matching Starsky’s. Starsky motioned slightly with his head in the direction of the retreating form. The blond’s eyes followed his partner’s until he too could see what his partner had seen. That ‘Cleo’ wasn’t ‘Cleo’ at all, despite the femininity of the attire; the patent leathers underneath the cape were a dead giveaway. Hutch now realized that whatever happened, it was imperative that neither Grimes nor his men get a clear view of just who was headed out that front door. He had to give Carlisle enough time to get out of the hotel and hopefully get to safety. He turned back to Grimes. "I’m curious, Grimes. Where’s your boss? Why isn’t he here to take the heat with you?" he inquired, hoping to keep the man occupied.

Grimes tried to turn and face the detective to answer him, but Hutch jerked his arm behind him a little tighter, keeping him facing away from him. "That’s none of your business." He grimaced.

Starsky decided to try his hand. "What makes you think you’ll be in any better position with your boss after this is all over? Bartok is still going to have to stand trial."

"You’d never understand."

"Try me."

Carlisle was at the front door, ready to leave--his hand was poised over the knob, he was almost free. That’s when the man guarding Starsky took his eyes off of the detective for a second and became very interested in the figure who was about to exit. He frowned and cocked his head to the side, the way a dog does when it’s confused. He directed his gaze first at the door, then at the cape, until slowly he made his way down to the shoes. His expression changed abruptly as he soon realized what the curly-haired detective and his fair-haired partner already knew. That that was no lady beneath that cloak, it was Carlisle. "Mr. Grimes?" He muttered, almost too quietly.

No sooner was the name spoken than Carlisle opened the door and was out of it. Without looking back, he surreptitiously escaped to freedom.

The man spoke again. "Mr. Grimes, I think you should know something."

"What is it?" Grimes asked angrily.

"I don’t think it was the girl who just went out the door."

"What!?" he shrieked loudly. Then as if he’d acquired some superhuman strength, he wrested his arm out of Hutch’s grasp, whipped around him and ran for the door. He flung it open and raced out to the elevator only to see the doors closing in front of him. He turned back towards the penthouse door, breathing heavily, his face a portrait of uncontrolled rage. He looked over at his men who were frozen in place. "Well, don’t just stand there! Go after him!"

The three of his men that did not have to guard the two detectives hesitated a moment longer, then reacted. Two of them raced down the stairwell and the other stood at the elevator impatiently pressing the call button. Now Grime’s wrath could not be contained, he stalked past the two detectives and headed towards the bedroom. He turned toward the duo. "If that was Carlisle, your lives won’t be worth dirt!"

Maxine could hear Grimes’s voice coming closer. She was still dressed in Carlisle’s clothing. The angry man tried the doorknob and found it locked. He knocked furiously, and she flattened herself against the door, deathly afraid to move.

"Miss…Cleo is it?" he said soothingly. "Please come out, I know that it was Carlisle who got away. I won’t hurt you. I promise."

With nowhere to go, she unlocked the door and slowly walked out. Grimes allowed her to walk over to where the two detectives were standing without being manhandled. She still had on the white dress shirt and trousers that Carlisle was supposed to wear for the transport operation. As she walked over to him, Hutch marveled that she made even men’s clothing look sexy. She lowered her gaze as she approached him."I’m sorry it didn’t work."

"That’s okay. The important thing is you tried." Hutch answered softly.

"I’ve had about enough of you three," Grimes announced. "Lock them in the bedroom." He ordered. "I’ll figure out what to do with them later."

As the hoods began leading the three of them towards the bedroom, Starsky suddenly got an idea.

"You and Bartok thought you had it made. Didn’t you?"

Grimes motioned for the guards to stop. "What are you talking about?"

Starsky gave Hutch a sly wink and directed his eyes to the spot where Hutch’s weapon was still lying. Hutch nodded knowingly, he knew exactly what his partner had in mind. In tough situations like these, the partners’ ability to communicate with each other without the use of words was a viable asset.

"You were one-upped by a lady. Must make you feel a little inadequate." Starsky continued.

"Shut up! Shut your mouth!"

Hutch joined in. "What’s the matter, Grimes? Not feeling so smug now, huh?"

Grimes growled and rushed forward with all his fury for an attack, and Hutchinson successfully held him off and tossed him aside. Starsky whipped around and forced the gun hand of the man covering him up into the air, holding it there by sheer force of will. With his free hand he retrieved his own gun from the man’s waistband. Hutch tucked and rolled over to his weapon and came up on his knees, quickly covering Grimes and the henchman who was holding Cleo.

"Let her go!" Hutch ordered. "I don't have any reservations about using this!"

"Do as he says!" Grimes ordered.

As soon as the man let go of Maxine’s arm she rushed to Hutchinson's side, kneeling beside him. They hugged each other tightly, but his eyes and his gun remained fixed on the two men in front of him. "Everything's gonna be all right. Just stay with me." He told her.

Starsky pulled out his cuffs and fastened them onto the man he had subdued. Hutchinson rose from where he was and pulled Cleo up with him. "Nice work, Starsk."

"My pleasure." Starsky walked over to Grimes. "Come on, pally, now it’s your turn to see how it feels to be locked up."

Hutch used his gun to point the way to the bedroom. Grimes and his men had no choice but to do as they were told. Starsky had to practically push the offenders to get them to go along.

"C’mon. C’mon! Get over there!" he ordered.

In their haste to get the prisoners into the bedroom and secured, Starsky and his partner did not take into consideration that the three men who’d gone out to recover Carlisle earlier, would return. The men were motionless as they stood in the doorway, then they walked in quietly and pulled their guns. "Hold it, you two!" They commanded in unison.

Starsky turned first, then Hutch. They’d been caught off guard, exactly the distraction Grimes needed to regain control of the situation. Hutch tried to make a move on him.

"Try it and we’ll shoot the girl!" One of them cautioned.

"Drop your weapons!" Another demanded.

Hutch and Starsky reluctantly obeyed, sliding their weapons onto the uncarpeted floor next to the balcony’s sliding glass doors. The two henchmen standing closest to them picked them up and emptied the chambers of both. Maxine held onto Hutch as if her life depended on it.

Grimes was handed a weapon which he aimed at all three hostages. "Good, good. I hope you’ll cooperate now and we can get this over with quickly, " he said, motioning to the darker man."You! Remove those cuffs."

With a sigh of resignation, Starsky pulled his set of keys out of his jeans pocket. The gunman made no effort at hiding his indignation at being made a fool in front his associates once he was released. He grabbed Starsky roughly by the shoulder and shot him his meanest glare. He could just as well have saved the display. Such shows of hostility and manhandling only served to make the city-born detective more fearless. "Maybe you oughta get used to seein’ these." Starsky threw the cuffs at Grimes, who caught them and gave them to the man who’d just been uncuffed. "On the contrary, Detective. It’s you who should get used to wearing them, and that goes for your partner, too. I assume that both of you were assigned a pair, as per your department's regulations."

Without provocation, Hutch reached into his back pocket and pulled out his own pair of cuffs.

"Now you, handcuff your partner." Grimes demanded, pointing his gun at Hutch.

Starsky begrudgingly complied with the order by turning around and offering his wrists to his partner, who placed the cuffs on each of his wrists and locked them firmly. Starsky turned to confront Grimes, his face a mask of concentrated hostility. "You won’t get away with this! Hutch and I’ll see to that."

"An admirable reproof, my dear Mr. Starsky, but one I’ll fancy is without the necessary substantiation. I’m sure you’ll agree, given the circumstances."

"Just wait’ll I get outta these things!" Starsky lunged forward, but was held back both by Hutch and the man who was guarding him.

"Cool it, Starsk." Hutch said in a soothing voice, trying desperately to calm him down. He placed a protective arm around Cleo’s waist. "What are you going to do with us, Grimes? I’m curious, seeing as how Carlisle’s probably safe in Federal custody by now."

"Hmmm. Let me see," he said, pointing the gun at the three of them. First turning the muzzle on Starsky, then on Cleo, then on Hutchinson. Grimes inhaled and exhaled, looking as though he was trying to make up his mind which one of them to shoot first. Finally he rested the muzzle of the gun on the blond detective and left it there. "I don’t know, Hutchinson, I think maybe I’d like to make good on my earlier threat," he said, cocking the gun.

Maxine’s eyes were alive with terror. "What are you going to do? You’re not going to shoot him a…are you?" The words tumbled out of her mouth freely.

Starsky answered for him. "Yeah, he’d do it. Sick men have no consciences."

Grimes’s mouth curved into an evil sneer as he slowly pulled the trigger. From Hutch’s point of view it all seemed to be occurring in slow motion. Grimes made a last minute change in the gun’s positioning and pulled the trigger, the bullet flew out of the muzzle, heading not at him, but straight for Cleo. He moved with lighting speed, launching his entire body out into space to try and somehow deflect the bullet’s course. At the same time, Starsky lunged at Grimes to knock him off balance, landing on top of him.

The bullet hit Hutch just east of the protective sheathing of his vest, searing through to the warm flesh of his thigh. He fell to the floor hard, the impact knocking him unconscious.

"Ken? Ken?" Maxine screamed, dropping to the floor and cradling his head in her arms.

Although handcuffed, Starsky was able to wrestle the gun away from his accomplice while sitting on his back. Wrists still bound, he pointed the gun at the rest of the gunmen in the room and motioned for them to gather in the corner. They obeyed. "You over there!" He gestured to the man he’d taken the handcuffs off of earlier. "Get these things off me. Now!"

The man jumped forward and did as he was told without delay. He pulled the key out of his jacket pocket and undid the handcuffs on the detective’s wrists, then stepped back. Starsky took them from him and deftly placed them onto Grimes’s wrists, getting off him and pulling him up roughly by his sleeve.

"Let’s go, Geronimo, this is your last stand!’ He pointed at the man. "You too, guys, hurry it up! Let’s not waste time."

As each man filed into a makeshift holding area in the corner of the room, Starsky led a defeated Grimes over to stand with them. "Stay right there, don’t move!" Starsky raced over to his partner as Cleo sat crying and caressing his cheek. And like the Calvary, several armed FBI agents appeared at the door, guns drawn.

"Hey, everything okay in here? We heard a shot!" One of them inquired. They filed in.

"What took you guys so long?" Starsky asked, examining his partner’s leg wound. He lifted the bottom of the vest as much as he safely dared. The wound was bleeding a lot, but it wasn’t life threatening. He pushed sweaty stray locks of blond hair off of Hutchinson’s forehead, then turned toward an agent.

"Need any help?" he asked.

"All we can get. My partner’s been shot. We’re going to need an ambulance." He pointed to Grimes and his men. "Those guys over there are gonna need a personal escort downtown." Then his eyes strayed to the still unconscious Federal agent lying near the doorway. The sight of him lent a whole new meaning to the ‘bigger they are the harder they fall’ theory. "Oh yeah, looks like the big guy over there could use some help, too."

The Federal agents converged on the five men and hauled them out the door. One of them remaining behind to make the phone call to the hospital.

Starsky now concerned himself with the well being of Hutch’s lady friend, putting a comforting hand on her heaving shoulder. She looked up at him with tear-streaked cheeks. "Why did he do it? Why?"

"Because he cares about you. When Hutch cares about you, there’s nothin’ he wouldn’t do, and that includes takin’ a bullet."

"But he could have been killed!"

"I guess he felt like you were worth it. Some things…some people, are worth it to him." His statement floated in the air, thick and heavy, like grey clouds heralding a storm.

When the FBI agent had the paramedics on the phone he directed them to the hotel. He finished with the call and was on his way out of the room when the dark-haired detective grabbed his arm. "Say, what happened to Carlisle? Did he make it out?"

"Yeah, I don’t know how he did it without being captured, but he was the one who called us and told us what was going on. We hustled on down here and assessed the situation. Turned out Agent Drummond and the rest of them were being held in the conference room just like he said. IT also turns out that Bartok’s men had just about taken over the whole hotel. They jumped two of our guys and almost got our star witness."

"Did you get them all?"

"We got them all. Going to be taking them downtown in a few minutes."

"That’s terrific. What about Bartok?"

"Bartok? We checked with the hotel across the street, but he’d checked out two hours earlier."

Starsky knew by now that Bartok was long gone. He must have been notified that his plan had failed somehow and beat a hasty retreat back to Japan or where ever he’d come from. But that didn’t matter now. The most important thing was to get his partner taken care of. "What’s the ETA on that ambulance?"

The agent looked at his watch. "About five minutes, is he going to be okay?" He asked, surveying the blond’s condition.

"He’ll make it. It’d take more than a bullet in the leg to stop Hutch."

At that moment Hutch’s eyes opened slowly. "Whoa…what happened?" he asked groggily. Then, apparently oblivious to the fact that he’d been shot, the man bravely tried to stand. A foolish attempt which his partner vehemently discouraged.

"Whoa there, Blondie. Let me help you." Starsky moved quickly, pulling his partner up onto his feet and allowing him to lean most of his weight on his sturdy frame as he helped him to a chair. "C’mon, buddy, sit down, you really shouldn’t be standin’ on that leg."

As Starsky was trying to maneuver his partner’s considerable mass on to a chair, Hutch felt his weight getting the better of his friend. In an effort to spare his partner a hernia, he let go and dropped down all too quickly on the unpadded seat. The searing pain in his leg hit him all at once. "Oh man! What the hell…?" he exclaimed, grabbing his leg to stem the throbbing.

Maxine was suddenly kneeling in front of him. "He shot you, Ken! He was going to shoot me! But you…you jumped in front of me and he hit you instead."

He touched her cheek weakly with his other hand and held on to the chair with the other. "I’d do it again, for you."

Starsky took a handkerchief out of his breast pocket and wiped the sweat from his partners’ brow. Then he twisted the handkerchief lengthwise and carefully slid it under his partner’s thigh, keeping his eyes on his him as he did. Hutch flinched visibly as Starsky tied it as tightly as he could below the wound. "You look terrible." he blurted out.

"Thanks." Hutch answered.

Maxine couldn’t help softly sobbing at his feet. ‘How can you possibly go through with writing that story now? A voice seemed to say to her. 'Because you’re a damn good writer and a dedicated journalist.' Her mind searched for a counter to that cold reasoning. If we both care for each other like we think we do, it won’t matter. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be. The siren of the ambulance pierced the silence of the room as it pulled up in front of the hotel.

"Sounds like your ride’s here." Starsky announced.

 

>Continued