"Well, there goes our only solid lead." Hutch ripped the report from the typewriter and threw it onto the desk. "Now what? Any ideas?"
Starsky swallowed the last bite of his donut and leaned back in his chair. "If they're smart, they'll leave town."
"What makes you say that?"
"Most dumb crooks don't read the kind of book I saw. I wasn't really reading it, but I saw enough to know it was a highly academic text. It had a lot of jargon, too. I didn't really understand it."
"What was it about?"
Hutch shrugged. "Mythology. Anthropology. Something like that."
Starsky shook his head. "And you ripped it up. Tsk, tsk. Destroying public property. That was a library book. You've deprived kids all over the community from bettering themselves. You're heartless."
Hutch rolled his eyes. "I don't think they intended to return the book to the library, Starsk."
"What about you?"
"I got checked out at the hospital." Jim placed his hands on Blair's shoulders and pushed him into sitting on the edge of the bed. "Now, let me take a look. You took a nasty fall down the side of the mountain, not to mention almost getting buried in a cave-in, and then having your arm nearly twisted off by that cop."
Blair sighed and slipped out of his flannel shirt. "Okay, but don't slap anything like you did the last time you wrapped my ribs."
Jim smiled, but it faded as soon as he spotted the dark bruises along Blair's side and back. Gently, he slid his fingers over the area, using his sensitive touch to probe the depths of the injuries. He didn't think anything was broken, and although his fingers weren't as diagnostically useful as an x-ray machine, Jim reassured himself that Blair probably wouldn't be walking around so well if he'd cracked a rib.
"How much does this hurt?"
Blair shrugged. "Not too badly. A little."
"Well, I guess you'll live." Jim moved in front of Sandburg. "Now, how 'bout the arm?"
Blair rubbed his offended wrist. "My wrist, elbow, and shoulder are a bit sore. It hurt like hell when he put it in that hold."
Jim nodded. "I'll bet. It's a very effective hold."
"Tell me about it."
"Here, let me check it out." Jim reached out and carefully grabbed Blair's forearm, using his other hand to lightly probe the wrist. He felt no signs of serious injury, then moved to the elbow and, finally, up to the shoulder. "Feels okay. I think there's some swelling in your wrist and shoulder, but I'll get you some ice and Tylenol. That should help."
Blair shook his head. "No, man. Just stay in here. You go out in public and you're likely to be spotted."
"I won't be spotted. I'll go out after dark and keep an eye and an ear out for the cops. And if anybody recognizes me, his heartbeat will give him away."
"No, way." Blair eased himself back on the mattress, releasing a small sigh as he let his head sink into the pillow. "If you get that keyed up, you're likely to zone, and if I go with you, we'll only be that much for conspicuous."
Jim sighed and dropped into the only chair in the hotel room. "Look, I'll only be ten minutes. We need supplies, anyway -- food and water, for one. It's better to do it at night than wait and have to go in broad daylight."
Blair pursed his lips, his brow furrowing uncertainly, but finally nodded. "Okay. Just be careful, man."
Jim smiled. "Chief, I'm a trained cop with special forces experience. I think I can handle a run to the convenience store."
"... and the search for the three persons spotted leaving the scene still continues. One of the men may be known as Blair Sandburg. Again, their descriptions are..."
"Oh man, Toni, they're not letting up. I told you the cops are gonna be all over this thing." The woman shook her head violently. "You shouldn't have shot him..."
"Shut up, already!" Tyler Markell paced the small apartment anxiously. So far, the heat had stayed off of them because, according to the news, none of the witnesses had gotten a good look at him or Angie.
But who the hell was that third guy? Angie had gone off about how she'd seen the man "appear out of thin air" like something out of Star Trek, but she'd been dusted at the time.
Whoever the third person was, he would be a liability if the cops ever caught him. As it stood, the long-haired stranger was the only person capable of identifying him and Angie.
"Hey, Starsk, my man. It's Huggy. Got some news for you."
"Oh yeah? Something good, I hope."
"Something very good. Got a make on that shooter you're looking for."
Starsky straightened in his chair. "Who?"
"Tyler Markell. Friend of a friend of mine overheard the man -- who was very drunk at the time -- arguing with his lady about the incident. Woman musta been high on something because she was hysterical. Kept saying something about someone popping in from thin air like God sent an angel to punish them for shooting the cop. Tyler finally popped her one and dragged her out."
"Oh Hugs, you're beautiful."
"Yeah, well, remember this with the tip -- I even have a last known address for you."
Starsky punched a joyous fist in the air, flashing a smile at Hutch across the desk. "Huggy, we owe you one."
"Hey, you owe me more than one, but you're welcome."
"How much you got left?" Jim kept his head cocked in the familiar listening pose as his eyes scanned the late-morning streets.
Blair flipped through his money, ignoring the useless twenty dollar bill. "Thirty-five dollars."
Jim sighed. "And I've only got ninety. If we don't find our way back home soon, we're gonna have to get ourselves a nice, sturdy cardboard box to live in, Chief."
Blair managed a half-hearted smile. He had no idea how the hell they were going to travel in time again and make it back to their home time. "I'm working on it."
"What do you have so far?"
"Not much. Just a symbol. That cop ripped out a page that had some useful information on it, but, fortunately, nothing vital. Anyway, we better move. We're kind of conspicuous out here."
"No one's made us yet." Jim remained on alert. "But let's get going."
Blair nodded. "Right. I wonder how much the cab ride is going to set us back?"
Jim shrugged as he continued to scan their surroundings. "Well, just be thankful we got transported into the past rather than the future. I'd hate to see what inflation up to the year 2018 would do to our wallets."
They'd decided to return to the woods where Jim had woken up. Even though the thing that seemed responsible for sending them into the past had been -- or would be in the future -- located in Cascade, Washington, Blair figured there had to be a reason why the 'drop' point (as he'd come to call it) ended up being Bay City, California.
He had no idea why he and Jim had been dropped off at two different spots, however. Still, the woods were a lot less conspicuous than the scene of the shooting, which happened to be in the middle of the commercial district. With Jim's sentinel abilities, they could conduct a speedy and efficient search of the wooded area and, hopefully, find something that shed light on the mystery. Maybe there was even another 'portal' leading back home.
Somehow, though, he figured it wouldn't be that easy. Nothing ever was.
Starsky and Hutch plastered themselves to either side of the wall.
Starsky slid his hand toward the door and knocked on the wood. "Police! Open up!"
Sounds of footsteps and the creak of a window filtered through the door. Starsky looked at his partner. Hutch went high, kicking the door open and going into a roll. Starsky followed behind, going low, his gun poised. The room appeared empty, but they both saw the open window.
Hutch took off at a run, following the fleeing suspect down the fire escape while Starsky stayed back long enough to look in the bathroom. Satisfied that the apartment really was empty, he took off after Hutch and the suspect.
Jim sat quietly in the backseat next to Blair as the cab drove them to their destination. He kept his hearing extended, listening for signs that the police were nearby. The sound of the gunshot echoed loud in his ears, and his hands flew up to cover them.
"What?" A hand rested gently on his arm. "You okay, man? What did you hear?"
Jim held up a hand, trying to locate the source. He heard another shot, but he'd expected it so it hadn't hurt like the first one.
Angry voices met his ears. "Put it down!"
Another gunshot. "I didn't shoot no cop! It was that... that... other guy! That Sambug guy."
Jim sighed. "Damn."
Blair gripped Jim's arm tighter. "What? What is it?"
"Trouble. There's a gunfight, and I think the cops got the guy who shot that officer cornered. Sounds like he's trying to finger you."
Blair's hand fell to his lap. "Where?"
Jim pointed to the east. "Somewhere that way."
"Just great. This is terrible." He leaned toward the cab driver. "Hey, take a right up here, will ya?"
Jim grabbed Blair's good shoulder and pulled him back. "What the hell are you doing? We're not going to show up."
"We need to check it out, at least. I mean, we're foreigners in this..." He glanced at the driver and lowered his voice, "...in this time. Our presence has already changed things. But take this shooting -- If I hadn't been there, the cops wouldn't be looking for a third person. That's taken them somewhat off-track. They might have found the other two sooner. Or, maybe this other guy will get off because they think I did it. Or maybe one of these cops gets shot now when they wouldn't have before. Who knows? But it could change history."
Jim thought he followed that argument. Still, it gave him a headache, and he raised one hand to rub at his temple. "Look, Chief, this is all speculation. We don't know what should be happening and what shouldn't be happening, so there's no use interfering."
The cabbie looked over his shoulder at them. "Where to now?"
Blair looked at Jim. "Well?"
After a moment's hesitation, Jim sighed and leaned back against the seat. "Make another right at the next turn."
"Drop it, Markell!" Starsky remained crouched behind the trashcan, eyeing Hutch, who was positioned across the alley behind a stack of boxes.
They had Markell pinned in the alley, but he was holed up behind a car parked at the back, and he seemed unconcerned about wasting his ammunition.
A bullet ricocheted off the brick an inch above Starsky's head, and he ducked instinctively, then quickly popped his head over the top of the trashcan to fire off another bullet.
He looked over at Hutch, who was peeking over the boxes and pointing to the roof of the single-level building. Starsky followed the line of direction until he spotted the lone figure hunched on the roof above Markell.
Who the hell is that?
Before Starsky could contemplate that question further, the newcomer dropped from the roof and slammed hard into Markell.
"I'm going!" Starsky yelled, bolting from his protected position and running as fast as he could toward Markell and the stranger.
An unfamiliar voice shouted a warning behind him. "Watch out!"
Starsky turned and rolled to the right. A gunshot sliced the air, then another.
A man yelled, "Blair!"
A sudden silence descended. Starsky rose to his feet and tried to make sense of what had just happened. He saw two crumpled figures laying at the head of the alley . One was a man with long, dark hair who he recognized as their third suspect in the shooting. The other appeared to be a woman in her late twenties with dark, shoulder-length hair. A gun lay just outside her limp, open hand.
"Hold it!" Hutch pointed his gun in Starsky's direction.
"What?" Starsky turned around to see the figure -- Ellison, he realized -- standing with his hands at his side and his eyes glued to the fallen young man. Markell lay unconscious behind him.
Ellison's cold blue eyes turned to Hutch. "That's my partner. I'm going to check him out. You can either shoot me or let me go, but I just saved your asses back there," he jabbed his head toward Markell, "so I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't shoot me." Without waiting for an answer, he resumed a fast walk toward the unconscious young man.
Starsky lowered his weapon, but kept it in his left hand. He glanced at Hutch, nodding slowly, and his partner did the same thing.
"Blair." Ellison crouched next to his friend. Blair lay motionless on his stomach, blood oozing from a wound in his right shoulder.
The two detectives moved up behind Ellison, and Hutch knelt next to the woman, placing his fingers along the side of her neck.
After a moment's pause, Hutch looked up and shaked his head. "No pulse." He rose to his feet and holstered his gun. "I'll go call for some units, an ambulance, and a coroner's wagon."
Starsky nodded and crouched next to the two men.
Ellison gently rolled Blair onto his back. He slipped out of his shirt and rolled it into a ball, then pressed it against the wound. With his other hand, he brushed the hair from the young man's face and then lightly tapped his cheek. "Chief? Come on, open your eyes."
A small groan slipped from Sandburg's throat, and his eyelids parted a fraction.
Ellison rested his palm on top of his friend's head. "That's it. You're gonna be all right. It's just a shoulder wound, buddy." He glanced meaningfully up at Starsky, then back at Sandburg. "The ambulance will be here soon. Okay?"
Starsky swallowed. He wasn't sure what had happened, but, as he glanced back at the gun laying next to the woman, he thought he had a good idea. "Can you explain to me what happened here? Why were you on the roof? How did your friend get shot?"
Ellison maintained the pressure on the wound, his eyes focused on Sandburg. "We heard the commotion. We came to help. Sandburg was supposed to stay back, but I guess he spotted the woman with the gun. I saw her taking aim at your partner when he shouted a warning. She spun and shot him. Your partner shot her. That about sums it up."
Hurried footsteps pounded against the pavement seconds before Hutch appeared, huffing slightly as he trotted over to Starsky. "Help's on the way."
Ellison nodded, his attention fixed on Sandburg. He lifted the bloodied shirt to inspect the wound, then resumed the pressure.
Starsky got to his feet. "You wanna tell me what happened?"
Hutch took a deep breath. "I heard him shout off a warning. I turned just as she fired. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and spun him around. She turned back toward me with her gun held high. I fired. That's pretty much it."
Starsky nodded, looking down at Ellison. "Well, your stories match. I guess we owe thanks to both of you."
Ellison didn't look up. "You can thank us by not taking us into custody."
Hutch frowned. "Sorry, we have to -- at least for questioning. You escaped custody and your friend was spotted at the scene of a shooting."
Ellison nodded. "So I figured," he sighed, "but it was worth a try. Considering my friend just took a bullet for you, though, can I ask a favor?"
Starsky raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, you can ask. If we can do it, we will."
"Will you let me go to the hospital with him? You can question me there, and I'll tell you as much as I can."
Starsky nodded slowly. "Okay. Sounds reasonable."
Finally, Ellison looked up at the two detectives. "Thank you."
A white, styrofoam cup appeared in front of his face, and Jim looked up into the face of Detective Hutchinson.
"Thanks." He managed to lift his hand high enough to take the cup, then let it rest on his knee.
Blair's tan backpack sat lopsided on the floor, partially braced against the leg of the coffee table. Jim had grabbed it from the ground just before hopping into the ambulance.
He shifted against the cushions of the waiting room's couch and watched the steam swirl above the dark liquid. His hand remained clutched around the hot cup, and he focused on that heat, hoping it would ease the coldness in his gut.
Starsky sat on the other end of the sofa, silently watching Hutch as the younger detective sank into the cornering arm chair.
Jim knew they were itching to ask their questions. He could practically feel the tension between them, the conflict between their duty and their humanity. He decided to spare them from making the decision.
Looking up, he met Hutchinson's eyes. "Go ahead. You can ask away."
The blonde detective's shoulders sagged a bit with relief, and he managed a small smile. "Well, we've got nothing to do but wait, anyway."
Starsky leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and looked at Jim. "I guess we'll start at the beginning. You told the rescuers you and your friend had been hiking. Right?"
Jim nodded and set the cup on the coffee table. "Yes. We'd gone hiking and we both took a spill down the side of a mountain."
"Then how'd witnesses end up seeing your friend running from the scene of a shooting?"
Jim shrugged. "Only the descriptions match, right? No one has personally identified him."
Starsky nodded. "That's true, but then how'd he find his way from the woods to the city? The rescuers didn't find a sign of him, and the hotel clerk said he checked in the same day -- before you even made your call for help."
Jim released a low sigh and raised one hand to squeeze the bridge of his nose. He really had no way to explain the situation. Sandburg was the expert in creative obfuscation.
He was too tired to even try, but telling the truth would be pointless. They wouldn't believe him, of course. If he were in their shoes, he wouldn't believe him.
"Well?" Hutch prompted, his voice gentle but tinged with impatience.
Jim heard the clank of footsteps against tile heading their way and suspected he'd be granted a temporary reprieve from answering. His suspicions solidified when the door leading to the waiting room opened and a white-clad doctor approached them. He was an older man with graying temples and thin, round glasses.
"You're here for Mr. Sandburg?"
All three men rose to their feet, but Jim stepped toward the doctor and nodded. "Yes. How is he?"
The physician extended his hand, and Jim shook it absently. "I'm Doctor Zimmerman. Mr. Sandburg will be just fine. The bullet went all the way through."
A smile sprung to Jim's face, and he pumped the doctor's hand more enthusiastically. "Thank you, Doctor. Can I see him?"
Doctor Zimmerman nodded. "For a few minutes. Follow me."
Jim picked up Sandburg's backpack and headed after the doctor.
Starsky and Hutch accompanied Jim to Blair's room, both still acting the cop and making sure Jim didn't try to make a run for it. He wouldn't, of course. There was no way he'd leave Sandburg behind.
His ears found his partner even before the doctor pointed out the room and then headed off in his own direction. Jim focused on the familiar heartbeat and slow, steady breathing that indicated sleep. Stopping in front of the door, he peered in through the glass and confirmed with his eyes that Blair was indeed asleep. The young man lay motionless on the bed, an IV hooked to his left arm and a spattering of electrodes attached to his chest, the wires peeking out from beneath the sleeves and collar of his blue hospital gown.
Jim's hand closed on the knob. He glanced at the two detectives and raised a finger to his lips. Hutchinson nodded his understanding, and Jim pushed the door open, walking quietly inside with the detectives at his heels.
Jim sank into the empty chair, letting the backpack drop to the floor. Hutch stood near the foot of the bed, and Starsky remained near the door. They each gazed quietly at the pale, young man for several seconds, listening to the regular beeping of the heartmonitor.
Hutch finally broke the silence. "He didn't shoot that cop."
Jim shook his head. "No, he didn't."
"A man who risks his life to save a stranger... to save me, a cop.... " He shook his head. "It doesn't make sense that someone who'd do that would shoot a cop."
Jim scooted his chair closer to the bed and spoke in a low voice. "He doesn't even like guns."
"So then what's up with you two? Explain the fake ID to me with the obviously wrong birthdate. And the weird phone they found on you? And how you claim to have gone hiking with him, but he ends up in the city while you're still stranded in the woods? And if neither of you have anything to hide, why'd you run from us?"
Jim took a slow, deep breath and rose from his chair, moving to stand directly in front of Hutch and using his height advantage to make an impression. He spoke slowly and deliberately. "I know things don't make much sense to you, but you wouldn't believe the truth if I told you. You're a good cop, I can tell, and, as a cop, I'm sure you've found yourself in situations that you were not at liberty to explain to anybody."
Hutch nodded slowly. "A few."
Jim continued. "I'm in that kind of a situation now. I know your department checked the Cascade P.D. and they said they have no record of me, but I'm telling you the truth. I am a detective. Blair Sandburg is a civilian, but he works with me. How and why we're here is not something I can tell you. But I promise you that neither of us have committed any crimes -- well, besides my knocking out the guard at the hospital and stealing his gun. And I did that only out of necessity. I needed to find my partner and make sure he was safe. I'm sure you can understand that."
Starsky stepped forward. "Why don't you try us? Whatever your situation is, I'm sure we can help."
Jim shook his head, a faint smile touching his lips from the sincerity he heard in the other detective's voice. "I wish you could, but, like I said, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Starsky raised his eyebrows and glanced at the sleeping figure in the bed. "You friend risked his life to save Hutch." He looked back at Ellison. "Maybe we can even the score. You tell us -- unofficially -- and we'll take it from there."
Jim held Starsky's gaze for several long seconds, gauging the man's sincerity. He focused on the detective's heartbeat, finding it somewhat elevated but steady. There was a subtle quality in Starsky's gaze that urged Jim to trust the man -- it was the same almost child-like genuiness that Jim often saw in Blair's eyes.
But even so, he knew neither detective would believe his story -- not without some kind of proof. Still, if they really wanted to know...
His smile grew a fraction larger, and he shifted closer to the bed, placing his hand on the rail and glancing down at his sleeping partner. "Okay, I'll tell you the truth. You won't believe it, and you'll think we're crazy, but it's the truth and, if you give me a chance, maybe there's some way I can even prove it to you."
Starsky nodded. "We'll give you that chance."
"If we can," Hutch added, glancing apprehensively at Starsky.
Jim looked back at the two men. "My name is Jim Ellison. I was born in 1962. My partner, Sandburg, was born in 1969."
Starsky's raised his eyebrows and Hutch let out a disbelieving breath, but neither man interrupted him.
"I know that makes us both too young for 1978. That's because we're not in the right time." He swallowed, having difficulty getting the words out. It all sounded even crazier now that he'd given voice to their predicament. "We're from the future by about twenty years. We were on vacation, hiking, and there was an earthquake. We took a tumble down the side of the mountain and ended up falling through part of the ground into a subterrestrial cave. Inside the cave, we found something I can't really describe. There was an explosion of light and some kind of weird sound. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the woods alongside a road. I walked until I found a payphone and called for help. I still thought I was in 1998... until one of your rescuers took issue with my ID."
He paused a moment, taking in their expressions. Hutch looked like a man humoring a small child who'd just come to him claiming that the boogeyman was in her closet. Starsky, on the other hand, looked both skeptical and awed, like a little boy wondering whether the mall Santa Clause was real.
Jim cleared his throat and turned back to look at Blair. "At any rate, all we want to do is find our way home."
An awkward silence followed, and, finally, Hutch spoke, disbelief obvious in his tone. "And just how are you planning on proving this to us?"
Jim looked up at the detective. "I was into sports as a kid. There's something I remember about this date. It's, what, November 20th today?"
Hutch nodded. "Yeah."
"Tomorrow, Brave Bob Horner will edge out Padre Ozzie Smith to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award."
"I got one...." A weak voice interrupted.
Jim spun around, his eyes dropping to his partner. Blair's eyes were open, and a small smile touched his lips.
"Hey, man." Blair paused to clear his throat, his voice rough. "I go unconscious for a bit and you decide to jump off the deep end? What's going on?"
Jim smiled. "Call it a tactical decision, Chief. Maybe if we can convince these two of the truth, they'll be able to help us get back home... or, at the very least, they'll stop trying to arrest us." He looked back at the two detectives, but neither looked convinced. Not that that surprised him.
Starsky moved closer to the bed and looked down at Sandburg. "What's yours?"
Blair cleared his throat again. "Francesco Tricomi is a famous mathematician. He died on November 21, 1978... or rather, he will die."
Hutch stiffened. "Now, wait a minute..."
"Of old age," Blair added. "He's... uh..." His brow furrowed as he struggled to remember. "I think he died at eighty-one."
After a moment's pause, Hutch turned to Starsky and gestured toward the door. "Can I see you out in the hall for a moment?"
Starsky nodded and flashed a reassuring smile at Blair. "Be right back." He turned and followed Hutch out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Jim watched the two men through the glass, their words filtering easily to his sensitive ears.
"What are they saying?"
Jim threw a mildly-annoyed glance at his partner. "One sec and I'll tell you." He cocked his head, focusing more solidly on the conversation.
"... and what if the predictions come true?"
"Starsk, don't tell me you actually believe their story?"
"I'm not sayin' I believe it. I'm just sayin' we ought to at least go until tomorrow before we decide what to do next. I told him I'd give him the chance to prove whatever it was he was going to prove. How was I supposed to know he'd be trying to prove something like THIS? But that doesn't matter. A promise is a promise."
"And I don't suppose it's occurred to you that they're LYING about it all? Maybe they've got something planned for tomorrow and they're just trying to stall."
"With this kind of a story? You don't think they'd come up with something a bit more believable than 'oh, and by the way, we're from the future?'"
"So you don't believe them?"
"Hutch, all I'm saying is that we give 'em the chance. That Sandburg guy saved your life. Took a bullet for you, buddy. Dontcha think that deserves something?"
Hutch sighed, glancing into the room. His eyes settled on Blair, who had drifted back into a light sleep. "Yeah, okay, Starsk. We give them until the end of tomorrow. No later."
Starsky nodded. "Okay, then. That just leaves one more thing."
"Oh? What's that?"
"Your place or mine?"
Hutch furrowed his brow. "What are you talking about?"
"They gotta stay some place, right? I mean, we ain't gonna just turn 'em lose and expect 'em to show up tomorrow. We gotta keep tabs on 'em."
Hutch groaned. "And what are we supposed to do with them while we're on the job?"
"Look, how 'bout we finish up our shift for today and call in sick tomorrow? We got tons of sick time we can use."
"Both of us just happen to be sick?"
Starsky shrugged. "Hey, you can go in and do some paperwork if you want."
"What about the two we just busted?"
"They can wait. Demente can take care of the prelim stuff." Starsky leaned closer to his partner. "But what are we gonna say in our reports? I mean, we gotta explain how the lady got shot, and all."
Hutch sighed, looking more and more anxious with each passing moment. "Hell, Starsky, this is never gonna work. The units and ambulance that arrived know we picked up these two. I don't think it's gonna work. We've gotta turn them in."
Starsky grinned knowingly. "No, it'll work. Look, all we've got on these two are descriptions that match. You know when they ran the fingerprints, Jim Ellison came up a blank. So, at the moment, they can't even prove he exists. We just tag him as a witness for right now and take his 'statement.'"
Hutch nodded slowly. "Okay, we might be able to work it out that way for now, but if we do end up bringing them in, it could be our asses when Dobey finds out."
"We can stall for a day, Hutch. Sandburg's still in the hospital and we'll just say he ain't being released yet. Nothin' we can do about that. Doctors orders, and all. And, anyway, we got nothin' on him. Just a description as a possible witness, right?" Starsky shrugged and smiled. "We can do this almost by the book and get away with it."
Hutch nodded. "Maybe. But we're not going anywhere near the station tonight. We're gonna have to let the paperwork sit until after tomorrow. We're both sticking with them until we see whether their predictions come true. Just in case they try something, I'd rather have it two-on-two then one-on-two, even if that Sandburg guy has his arm in a sling. And, even if they don't outright try something, one guy can't keep tabs on them both all the time. One trip to the bathroom and they could take off."
Starsk nodded curtly. "Okay. It's a plan."
Jim turned his attention back to Blair when he saw the two detectives turn toward the door. They entered the small room, and Starsky hovered near the doorway while Hutch approached the bed. The blonde detective managed a smile as he looked up at Jim.
"Well, we've decided to wait and see whether your predictions come true. For tonight, you can stay at Starsky's place." Hutch's smile widened to a grin as he glanced back at his partner, then returned his gaze to Jim.
Jim shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll stay here tonight." He glanced at Blair, who seemed to be following the conversation, albeit with drooped eyelids. "Considering everything that's happened, I think it best that Sandburg and I not split up."
Hutch's smile dropped. "Uh, well, you see... We'd like to get some sleep tonight, and we can't exactly leave you alone. You're still in our custody, but it's not official until your 24 hours are up."
Blair shifted in his bed, his eyelids opening wider, making an obvious effort to look more awake. "Hey, it's okay. I don't have to stay the night here, or anything. I can rest on a couch as easily as I can in this bed. So, get me out of here and we can all go back to Detective Starsky's place."
Jim pursed his lips. "That's not a good idea, Chief. It's best for you to stay the night here."
Blair shook his head. "Look, you're not going to leave me here alone, and they aren't going to leave you here alone, which means we'll all end up staying the night at the hospital and getting zero sleep. That makes no sense. Let's all just go back to an apartment where I can rest and, uh, you know..." He glanced at the two detectives. "Well, hell. I guess I can say it front of you two now. I've been looking into a way to get Jim and I back to our own time. That's what that book you ripped up in my hotel room was for."
Hutch fidgeted uncomfortably, a hint of shame touching his cheeks, but his eyes still held skepticism. "If your predictions come true, then I guess I owe you an apology." He straightened suddenly, glancing back at Starsky briefly, then looking up at Ellison. "We'll wait until tomorrow. Here, or at Starsky's place, or mine. It doesn't matter. But we can't let either of you out of our site. If you're really a cop, I'm sure you understand just how much we're already bending the rules for you." He looked back at Sandburg. "But since you saved my life, I guess it's the least I can do."
Jim nodded. "I do. And I appreciate it." He looked down at Blair. "What do you say, Chief? You still want to blow this joint?"
Blair nodded. "Oh yeah. And can we stop for some real food on the way?"
"Well, here we are." Hutch pushed his door open and gestured inside, allowing Jim and Blair to enter first. Then he threw a glare at Starsky standing just behind him. "How do I let you talk me into these things?"
Starsky grinned. "Hey, your place is bigger than mine and more --"
"-- secluded. I know."
"And you've got more good stuff in the fridge."
Jim's voice interrupted their argument. "Are you two coming in, or are you going to whisper in the hallway all night?"
"And, not to be rude," Blair interjected, "but I'm starving, and since we all voted for pizza..."
"All right. All right." Hutch swaggered in in front of Starsky and hung his jacket on the rack. "What kind of toppings?"
Blair eased himself onto the couch, sighing as he settled into the cushion. His right arm hung in a sling close to his body. "I'm too hungry to care guys. Whatever you want is fine with me."
Jim remained standing just behind Blair, a white bag of prescription medications clutched in his hand. "Anything but Hawaiian. And no anchovies."
Hutch nodded. "No anchovies. Okay." His gaze darted to Starsky. "And I suppose you want extra pepperoni, extra cheese, and extra sausage, Gordo?"
Starsky grinned. "I'm touched you know me so well, Blondie."
"You're touched all right," Hutch muttered as he picked up the phone receiver and began dialing.
Forty-five minutes later, one large pizza with extra pepperoni, cheese, and sausage and one large pizza with peppers and olives arrived. Starsky set them on the coffee table in front of Sandburg while Hutch placed a stack of paper plates next to the boxes. Starsky snatched a slice of the pepperoni one. Hutch grabbed a couple of slices of the peppers and olives, and Jim took one of each.
Sandburg, however, had fallen asleep half an hour ago and remained oblivious, his head tilted against the back of the sofa. Jim again grabbed one slice of each, set them on a paper plate, and sank onto the cushion next to Blair. Gently, he placed a hand on the kid's left shoulder and shook him gently.
"Chief, wake up. Food's here."
"Hmm?" Blair's head bobbed up, his eyelids opening lazily.
With a smile, Jim held the plate of food beneath Sandburg's nose. "Pizza."
Blair straightened, instantly alert, and grabbed the plate with his good hand. "Thanks."
Hutch moved to the refrigerator. "Drinks?"
Starsky's chin shot up. "Beer," he said around a mouthful of pizza.
"Same here if you've got enough." Jim reached forward to grab his plate from the table. "Otherwise coffee or water would be fine."
Blair yawned and settled back against the sofa, his plate resting on his lap. "Water or tea will be fine. Thanks."
The hot throbbing in his shoulder pushed him awake. With a groan, he opened his eyes, blinking a few times to clear the blurriness from his vision. An off-white ceiling hung above, totally different from the red brick and yellow pipes of the loft. A jolt of disorientation brought him further awake, and he lifted his head, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings.
He was in a strange room. A flutter of panic kicked his heart into high gear, and he moved to sit up, but the pain in his shoulder flared angrily, and the room spun. He dropped back to the mattress, breathing hard from the exertion, and tried to clear the fog from his brain. Where was he? How did he get there? What happened to his shoulder?
Jim? Relief flooded through Blair as memory and realization returned. He was in Detective Hutchinson's house. Turning toward the voice, he saw Jim standing to the left next to the bed.
The Sentinel smiled. "How's the shoulder?"
Blair threw the covers off and slowly swung his legs over the edge of the mattress as he sat up. "It hurts." His arm still hung immobilized in a sling, held close to his body. He gave into a deep yawn and blinked the resulting tears from his eyes. "What time is it?"
"Almost noon. Hungry?"
Blair shook his head. "Not really." The pizza from last night still hung heavy in his stomach.
"Well, you need to take your antibiotics and painkillers, and it's best to do that with a meal. How 'bout I whip you up some toast and milk?"
Blair nodded, managing a small smile. "Sure. Thanks."
Blair looked past Jim to see Detective Starsky. The 'bedroom' was really more of a section of the house with a door to outside set in one wall. To the left lay the living room, completely visible as that side had no wall. Beyond the living room, curving again to the left, Blair could see part of the kitchen.
It was a nice, spacious house, immaculately kept. Idly, Blair wondered if all cops were neat freaks. He suppressed that thought, his eyes darting to Jim, then returning to Starsky. "Nice place."
Starsky grinned. "Yeah, ain't it?." He jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. "It belongs to the bum in the kitchen." He took a step back and turned toward the kitchen. "Huuutch! We need some toast and juice over here! And a coupla slices of leftover pizza!"
Blair raised his eyebrows. "Uh, no more pizza for me. My stomach's had all it can take."
Starsky smiled. "The pizza ain't for you."
"Ah." Blair returned the smile and pushed himself to his feet. "I see you and Jim have the same taste in breakfast food." He ducked a swat from the Sentinel and flashed another smile. "Can, uh, someone point me to the bathroom?"
Starsky gestured to the left. "Thatta way."
"Thanks." Blair shuffled off toward the living room. He spotted Hutchinson in the kitchen, leaning on the open refrigerator door. "'Mornin', Detective."
Hutchinson looked up and offered a lopsided smile. "Good morning. How are you feeling?"
"Shoulder hurts a little, but it's manageable." Truthfully, it hurt like hell, but he wasn't about to complain in front of three tough-as-nails cops, one with special forces experience. Bullet holes to them were probably all badges of honor, or something.
Hutch pulled out a loaf of bread and set it on the table. "Two pieces of toast okay?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah." His eyes drifted over the kitchen, coming to rest on a microwave. "Oh, wow. A microwave. Guess I was too young, but I don't really remember having microwaves in the seventies."
Hutch raised his eyebrow, the skepticism returning to his face. "Yeah, well, uh, after countdown, if your predictions prove true, I'd love to hear about what things you do have in the future."
Blair cleared his throat. "Well, uh, that might not be such a good idea. You know, space-time continuum, and all."
"You sound like something out of Star Trek."
"More like the Twilight Zone," Blair muttered. "Uh, bathroom. This way?" He pointed to another door on the far wall.
Hutch nodded. "Yep. Clean towels, too, if you need them."
"Thanks." Blair shuffled into the bathroom. It was larger than the loft's bathroom, but not overly spacious.
He eyed the toothbrush perched in a holder on the sink and suddenly became aware of just how pasty his mouth felt. Damn, and he didn't have a toothbrush. His finger and some mouthwash would have to do.
"And Bob Horner of the Braves beat out San Diego Padre Ozzie Smith to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Horner batted .266 with 23 home runs in just 323 at bats."
Jim, seated on one end of the sofa, threw a smug glance at Detective Hutchinson, who was sitting in the armchair, leaning forward and riveted to the television.
Hutch shook his head. "Well, I'll be..."
"Hah!" Starsky smiled. He was slouched at the end of the couch, next to Blair.
"So?" Blair scrubbed a hand over his face. "You believe us?"
Hutch looked at Blair, his eyes narrowed with skepticism. "Lucky guess? After all, Horner's a good player."
Blair looked heavenward. "Oh, come on. It could have just as easily been Ozzie Smith."
"C'mon, Hutch," Starsky pouted, "we said we'd give 'em a chance. Now, they're one for one. We gotta find out if that math guy died."
"Francesco Tricomi," Blair elucidated.
Hutch sighed and leaned back in the chair. "Okay, so how do we find out? Is he in the United States? How do you know it'll even make the news?"
"He's Italian, and he died in Torino, I think." Blair gave into a brief yawn before continuing, "I did a paper on him in high school."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "And you remember all that?"
Nodding, Blair flashed a brief grin. "Yeah, it was a project where we had to pair with another student." His grin returned. "My partner was Amy Marters. We, uh, had a lot of fun working on the project." He waggled his eyebrows.
Jim glanced heavenward. "Figures."
"Anyway," Blair continued, his expression growing more serious, "Tricomi's a pretty famous mathematician. They even have an equation named after him that's important in describing an object moving at supersonic speed. So, I'm betting his death will make the news. Maybe not 'til tomorrow morning, though."
Hutch nodded reluctantly. "Okay, we'll wait another day."
Jim studied his partner for a moment. Blair sat hunched on the living room sofa, his arm still held immobile in a sling. His laptop was perched on the coffee table and a book rested open on the cushion next to him. Hutch and Starsky had been casting interested looks at the laptop all morning, but Sandburg had shooed them away each time they got too close. Apparently, he really needed the laptop, but he didn't want them exposed any more than necessary to futuristic technologies.
At least, Jim mused, Hutchinson's skepticism seemed to be dissipating every time he looked at the laptop. Computers in the 1970's were far from developed, and the idea of lightweight, portable computers was still many years away.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, Jim saw that it was well past lunch. Hutch had encouraged him to help himself to the refrigerator, so he'd scarfed down a sandwich. Blair had refused anything at the time, waving a dismissive hand in the air as his eyes remained glued to the book. That was over three hours ago.
"Hey, Chief." Jim walked up to the back of the couch. "You want me to make you something to eat?"
Blair looked up, his glasses perched on his nose. "Huh?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, thanks, man."
With a satisfied nod, Jim shuffled into the kitchen. Starsky and Hutch were seated at the kitchen table, idly playing a card game. Opening the refrigerator, he took out the bread, cheese, mayonnaise, and lunchmeat, then set them all on the counter and began fixing the sandwich.
He spared another glance toward the living room as slapped the lunchmeat on the bread. He was feeling pretty useless. Blair seemed to believe that something in that book could explain the symbol he'd seen on the thing that had apparently sent them back in time. Since Jim had already searched the area he'd 'arrived' at for the device -- if that's what it was -- and found nothing but trees and birds, he had nothing to do but wait and hope that Sandburg found an answer.
If Blair didn't come up with something soon, though, Jim figured their best bet was to head back to Washington and revisit their camping area in hopes of finding the device and figuring out how to get it to send them back home.
"Aha!" Blair shoved the newspaper page toward Hutch, who was sitting at the other end of the kitchen table. "Right there."
Jim sat to the side of Blair. He sipped at his coffee, eyeing the newspaper with modest interest. "So we're two-for-two?"
Blair nodded as Hutch took the paper and read the headline. His eyes scanned the text, and after a few seconds, he set the paper on the table and looked up at Blair. "Okay, you were right."
Starsky strolled out of the bathroom and headed straight for the coffee pot. "Ah, I'm kind of enjoying our downtime."
Hutch gestured to the paper. "It may be over. That mathematician guy died, and it's in this morning's paper. He was eighty-one, just like Mr. Sandburg said."
"So now what?" Blair looked back and forth between the two partners.
Starsky sank into the empty chair to the left of Blair. "Well, Hutch, we did say we'd give 'em a chance. They were right about both things. And that computer Blair's been using isn't like anything I've seen before."
"Yeah." Hutch sighed, a hint of residual skepticism touching his face. "But from the future?" He leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. "It's a little hard to believe, you know."
"We know," Jim interjected. "Try it from our side."
Hutch eyed the two men warily. "One of you could just be psychic. Not that I'd normally jump to that conclusion, but it's a bit more believable than time travel."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on! What about the laptop?"
"You haven't really let us look at it that much."
"Because I don't want to muck up history! This is a first-time for me, guys! It's not like they make a manual on how to time travel without screwing up the time-space continuum thing."
"Show it to him, Chief. We need to convince them because we need their help." Jim took another sip of his coffee. "You've got a video game on that thing, right?"
Blair narrowed his eyes. "And how do you know that?"
Jim took another sip of his coffee, his expression blank. "Lucky guess."
"Uh-huh." Blair sighed and rose from the table. "Fine. Come on. You've got nothing in your time like what you're about to see."
A spark of glee flashed in Starsky's eyes as he rose from his chair and followed Hutch and Blair into the living room. Jim stifled a smirk as he took another swallow of his now lukewarm coffee. Blair sat on the sofa, and Starsky and Hutch took positions on either side of him. He leaned forward and touched the mousepad. The dark screen flared to life.
"Hey! That's pretty cool." Starsky pointed to the screen. "Look, Hutch, it's like a typewriter on a TV screen."
Jim shook his head and smiled. God, he remembered 1978. It was amazing how many little things had developed that he now took for granted.
"Okay," Blair's voice filtered into the kitchen. "This is, like, an adventure game. You've gotta go through various mazes and solve a bunch of riddles to get the prize..."
Jim listened absently as he grabbed the newspaper and slid it toward him. Setting his mug on the table, he flipped to the front page and began reading the headlines. There were a few Thanksgiving stories. Jim's eyebrows rose when he saw that Andy Kaufman was riding a float in the Thanskgiving Day Parade. He shook his head in wonder. There were so many people alive at that moment who wouldn't be...
He stiffened. He had been about sixteen years old in 1978... was sixteen years old. Right now, he could look himself up... Before he joined the army. Before his chopper went down in Peru... before all those men died.
He could change things. Stop it from happening. Save his team. Maybe.... Just maybe....
"Amazing." Hutch shook his head and sank into the chair at the kitchen table.
Starsky and Blair took their seats. Jim looked up from the paper. "So?"
Starsky broke into a huge grin. "So...what's it like in the future?"
Blair cleared his throat. "Um...Uh-uh. No can do, guys. Sorry. Space-time continuum and all that."
Jim shrugged and tilted his head toward Blair. "He's the boss."
"Yeah, right," Blair snorted. "So, Jim, you said you checked out the area where you came to?"
Blair frowned. "I don't understand how we ended up in Southern California."
Starsky set his elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand. "Why not? If the thing can make you travel in time, getting you from Washington to California seems like a piece of cake."
"That's not the point." Blair leaned forward. "The question is 'why?' Traveling through time is different than traveling through space. We should have just ended up in 1978 but at the same location, just outside of Cascade, Washington."
"Oh." Starsky looked confused. "So, uh, maybe it goofed."
Blair gave a tolerant smile. "Maybe." He looked back at Jim. "You're being awfully quiet, not that that's really a change for you, I guess, but don't you have anything to say? Ideas?"
Jim shrugged as he glanced up from the paper. "This is more your area than mine."
"Time travel is not my area, man!"
"What about that book? Did you find anything useful?"
"I did find the symbol, and it seemed to be tied to a myth about nightwalkers. Maybe they were, in fact, aliens who had visited our planet long ago. But that doesn't really help us much."
"So, I guess we head back to Washington and try to find the thing that sent us here. or we could just hang out for the next twenty-some years until we get there naturally."
Blair frowned. "Uh, no thanks."
"Or we could look ourselves up and warn ourselves."
"No way, man!" Blair's eyes went wide. "That could be potentially disastrous! You don't mess with stuff like that, Jim."
"And how would you know, Blair? Time travel a hobby of yours?"
"No, but don't you watch Star Trek? Back to the Future?"
Jim leveled a tolerant look at Blair. "You're basing your theories on a 1960's television show and a movie about a teenager and a car?"
"You ever read H.G. Wells, Jim?"
"Not all of him, no, but I get the picture, Sandburg. You're forgetting something, though."
"H.G. Wells was a novelist, not a phycisist."
"Okay then, Einstein."
"What about him? Did he write a how-to manual on time travel?"
"Not exactly, but..."
"Face it, Sandburg, all we've got to go on is a bunch of guess work. This is all new territory. So who's to say what we should and shouldn't do?"
"I can't believe you, man!" Blair slapped a palm on the table top. "We need to be careful here. You've gotta realize the danger of changing the future."
"The future isn't written yet, Sandburg."
"So what makes you think the future turned out the way it should have?"
Blair's eyes narrowed. "Jim?" He dropped his voice, shooting a glance at Starsky and Hutch, then leaned closer to Jim. "What are you getting at? If you're thinking... Man, you can't. C'mon, Jim. What? Peru? Jack? Danny? You can't start messing with that stuff."
"Did I say I was going to?"
"Not in so many words, but I can tell something's up with you."
Jim looked back down at the paper. "Nothing's up with me. You asked for my opinion, Chief."
"Look, guys," Starsky smiled weakly, "why don't we work on getting you to Washington? You got any money?"
"A little." Jim looked up at the detective. "Maybe enough for bus or plane fare, depending on what the rates are in 1978."
"Uh, look you two," Hutch spoke up, "even if I concede that you're from the future, there's still the little matter of our murder investigation. A cop was killed, and you," he looked at Blair, "were seen running from the scene of the crime."
Blair sank lower in his chair. "I was kind of out of it, but I remember trying to get to a phone, then I spotted the newspaper and saw the date."
"C'mon, Hutch, what are we gonna do? Book 'em? Use them as witnesses to testify in court? Two guys who aren't even old enough to vote yet right now? Technically speaking, of course."
"What are we gonna say--"
"We just say we never found the curly-headed guy." Starsky threw a smile at Blair. "We got the two really responsible. What's more important? Going' by the book or making sure justice gets done?"
"Look, Starsk--" A ringing phone interrupted Hutch. With a sigh, he rose from his seat. "I bet that's Dobie about to chew us out for not coming into the station. If we don't do something soon, we may find ourselves facing IA, Starsk."
"We're really sorry, guys." Blair looked back and forth between the two partners. "I know this is putting you out, and..."
"Awww, don't worry about it." Starsky waved him off. "We'll figure out something."
Blair found their flight on the airport DEPARTURE board and confirmed that the plane would be leaving on time. "Okay." He clapped his hands together and turned to the three men behind him. "We got enough time to grab something to eat."
Jim nodded. "Sounds good." He looked at Starsky and Hutch. "You two don't have to use your sick days to come with us. There's no point."
"Uh, yes we do." Hutch smiled politely. "No offense, but I believe you...about 99 percent. It's the one percent that has me here, but, either way, I suppose you might need some help. If you are telling the truth, then we need to come with you to help. If you aren't telling the truth," his smile brightened, "well, then we really need to come with you."
Starsky leaned forward and grinned. "You'll have to forgive my partner. He's got no sense of wonder." He threw a slanted look at Hutch. "Besides, I wanna see this thing, if it exists."
Blair sighed tolerantly. "I suppose my saying that you guys coming with us might alter the course of history still won't persuade you?"
"You've already changed things here," Hutch interjected.
Starsky nodded. "In for a penny... You know, what they say."
Hours later, the four men found themselves just outside of Cascade, Washington, heading up to the campsite in a rented Jeep courtesy of Detective Hutchinson, since the airfare had taken up most of Jim and Blair's remaining cash.
"Okay, far enough. Just pull it over to the side." Jim pointed up ahead to a small camping area to on the right with a small building and signs that indicated restrooms and a payphone. There were a couple of RV's and vans already parked there, and a handful of people occupied the area, some just resting, others eating.
Pulling the Jeep next to a brightly-painted van, Hutch turned off the engine. "How far from here?"
"About five miles. We were halfway through our hike when we found it."
"five miles?" Starsky's eyes went wide as he twisted in the passenger seat to look back at Jim and Blair. "You walked this for fun?"
Blair snorted. "I wanted to take the two-mile flat trail, but Mr. Ranger here had to have a challenge. It's mostly uphill." He looked to Jim. "And you still owe me pizza and a week of first dibs on the shower for agreeing to that hike. In light of where it got us, I think that should end up being two weeks."
Jim pursed his lips. "A week and a half."
With a look heavenward, Jim sighed. "Okay, let's go. Bathroom break, then we head off."
"You got it." Blair unbuckled his lap belt. "You know, you guys really should wear your seat belts."
Starsky rolled his eyes. "We're here, aren't we?"
"Do you know that 83% of accidents--"
"Come on, Chief." Jim opened his door. "Those statistics aren't even good yet."
Blair frowned, considering that. "This really sucks, you know."
"Sandburg, that's the understatement of the year. Now, hurry up." He jerked his chin toward the building as he slid out of his seat. "Let's get business over with and get on the trail."
"Trail." Blair huffed. "Is that what you called that route you picked out for us?"
Jim eyed the entrance to the men's room as he picked up the payphone's receiver. He remembered the number vividly. It had only changed once in the time his family had lived in that house. Depositing the change, he dialed and listened to the line ring. On the third one, a familiar, strong voice answered.
Taking a deep breath, Jim scrubbed a hand over his short hair. "Uh, Mr. Ellison?"
"This is Robert Carson, Tommy's Dad." Jim was finally thankful that his father had never spent enough time at his football games to get to know the other parents well. "Can I speak to Jimmy?"
"I just need to ask him if he, uh, wants to mentor a Pee Wee."
"Oh, all right. Hold on.... Jimmy!"
There was a moment of silence, and Jim extended his hearing to listen to the faint noises over the line. He heard his own younger voice asking who was on the line, then tracked the approaching sound of footsteps.
"Hello?" the boy's voice asked.
"Jimmy, I need to tell you something that won't make much sense right now, but remember it. In a few years..."
Jim jumped, nearly dropping the phone, and spun around to see Blair standing a foot away, his arms crossed and his eyes wild with anger.
"What the hell are you doing?" Blair lunged forward and slapped his hand on the hook, ending the connection. "Man, I can't believe you! We talked about this! How the hell could you --"
"Damnit, Chief!" Jim slammed the receiver on the hook. "You think this is all just some textbook theory! I'm talking about men who died. Good men who shouldn't have died!"
"Yeah, I know that, Jim." Blair's face darkened with pain. "I've lost people, too, you know. I know what it feels like, but we can't change things. By saving those men, you'd be killing others who had lived. Think about it. If your chopper hadn't gone down, you wouldn't have been trapped in Peru for those eighteen months. You wouldn't have had your Sentinel abilities come online. You might never have become a cop. All the lives you've saved being Detective James Ellison, Sentinel, will be null and void, man. All those good people dead! Hell, if you hadn't stopped Brackett and Alex, the death toll with them alone could have been devastating."
Jim looked away, his gaze going to some distant point on the horizon. "Maybe." He closed his eyes and sighed, dropping his head and squeezing the bridge of his nose. "You're right, I guess."
"No guesses about it," Blair said gently, placing his hand on Jim's arm. "C'mon, let's get going. Starsky and Hutch are out of the bathroom and sort of eyeing us strangely from afar. I guess they sensed this was a private conversation."
Jim looked over his shoulder and, sure enough, the two detectives were sitting at a small picnic bench, casting quick glances their way.
"Okay." Forcing a shallow smile on his face, Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "Let's go."
With a sigh, Blair nodded, throwing a lingering glance at Jim and then heading toward the picnic bench.
"We should be just about there, shouldn't we?" Blair adjusted the backpack on his shoulders and glanced at the edge of their trail to where the cliff dropped off.
"I sure hope so." Starsky wiped his brow. "You had to hike up hill?"
Jim turned to face the two detectives, a large camping pack hung high on his shoulders. "It might go easier if you two took off your leather jackets. Why you needed them in Southern California is beyond me, but even now that we're in cooler temperatures, if you're going to be working up a sweat, it's probably best that you not do it in leather."
Hutch glanced at Starsky. "The man has a point."
"I like my jacket," Starsky pouted.
"Fine." Jim turned and resumed his trek. "But don't expect us to stop if you collapse of heat stroke."
Blair chuckled. "At least he'll look cool when he passes out."
"Ha. Ha. Hold up." Starsky stopped as Jim and Blair turned back to face him. He slid out of his jacket and tied it around his waist. "How much farther do you think?"
"Like Sandburg said, we should be about there," Jim answered.
Blair nodded and looked around. "I think we're just about at the place where we fell. The trail was pretty monotonous for a while, so I can't be sure. Have you tried to..." He glanced at Starsky and Hutch, "uh, you know? See if anything's familiar to you?"
Jim raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. "It's hard to say. I don't hear anything."
Blair's eyes widened. "Uh, right." He flashed a smile at Starsky and Hutch. "It made a strange humming noise." Turning around to face Jim so that Starsky and Hutch couldn't see his expression, Blair threw a warning glare at Jim then brushed passed him to look carefully over the edge. "I'm pretty sure we're almost on top of it, if it's here." He pointed out over the expanse. "There's that small valley. Yeah, we're definitely in the area."
"Great, Chief, so how do we find it?"
"Beats me. You're the one with the, uh, you know...special ranger skills."
Blair waved a hand in the air. "Yeah, yeah." Under his breath, he mumbled, very softly, "Geez, you want me to give it away, here? Use your hearing again. Just focus a bit harder."
A smile quirked Jim's lips, but he kept his gaze on the expanse of valley below them. Tilting his head, he remained silent for several seconds, then shook his head. "I think we should try to find a way to descend. We fell down a slope, so if we can just find something a little less steep, we should be able to... Wait. I hear something."
Blair stiffened. "Yeah?"
"What?" Hutch glanced at Starsky. "I don't hear anything."
"Me either," Starsky commented.
"Shhh." Jim raised a silencing hand, then, after a moment, said, "Yeah, Chief, that's it. The same strange sound I heard before, more like a vibration."
"So it is here." Blair's brightened. "Man, I am so glad to hear that. The thought of being stuck back here... Well..."
"I hear ya, Chief."
"So, you think it's, like, on all the time, or did we somehow activate it?"
"I have no idea." Jim shrugged. "It's such a subtle sound... but not really a sound... that it's barely noticeable."
Starsky leaned slightly toward the ledge, his head tilted. "Uh, I still don't hear anything."
"I think we're right on top of it." Jim slid out of his pack, letting it fall to the ground. "Instead of trying to find more even ground to make our descent, it might be easiest for us to climb down." Opening the pack, he pulled out two 9.9 mm climbing ropes and two pairs of aluminum ascenders. "We'll tie off here." He rummaged through the large pack again and withdrew two harnesses. "Sandburg and I will climb down and try to locate the machine. Here." He tossed a walkie talky to Hutch. "If we find what we're looking for, we'll let you know."
"Uh, Jim, man," Blair peered over the edge, raising his hand slowly, "You know, I kind of vote for finding a nice, semi-level way to walk down."
Jim looked up at the young man. "Chief, don't worry. With this gear, it should be a piece of cake. It's not even a straight drop off, just a steep hillside."
"Piece of cake," Blair huffed, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. "Sure."
Oh man, oh man, oh man. Blair gripped the rope tightly with his gloved hands and looked over his shoulder at Jim below. The hillside sloped steeply downward, but the harness kept him fairly well tethered to the rope. Jim, the show off, had opted to do the climb without the harness, and he seemed to be having little trouble making the descent.
In contrast, Blair thought he was doing great just hanging on to the trail mix he'd scarfed down an hour earlier. He hated heights. Yet, with Jim, he kept finding himself in very high places. He just prayed the rope held. He could picture it, just like in the movies, fraying against a rock until it snapped, sending him crashing down the much-too-steep hillside.
"It's not a straight drop-off," Blair muttered mockingly under his breath. "It's just a steep hill." Uh-huh, Jim, you and I are gonna have to have a long talk about your talent for understatement. Maybe to a former ranger, an eighty-five-degree from level ground angle wasn't exactly a straight drop-off, but for normal, non-superhuman anthropologists, it was close enough.
"You doing okay, Chief?" Jim called up to him.
Blair took a deep breath. "Not really," he yelled, sarcasm permeating his voice. "Thanks for asking."
"Just a little farther. I think we're getting closer to the vibration."
"Great!" He continued his descent, focusing on keeping hold of the rope and watching where he put his feet. Blair had made it about half way down the slope when he felt the tremor. "Jim...!"
"Shiiit!" Came the alarmed cry from below at the same time the rope jerked roughly.
"Jim!" Blair twisted his head to look down, but, although the rope was taut, there was no sign of Jim. Several yards below, the line seemed to disappear into the mountainside itself. "Jim!
No No No! Blair closed his eyes briefly, swallowed hard, then pushed off the mountain and loosened his grip on the rope, putting himself into a near free-fall as he ran backward down the mountain. His feet slid against the rock as he struggled to keep his legs moving at the same rate as the rest of his body. The rope remained taut, keeping him from bouncing, and he arrived quickly at the drop-off.
Sending a silent prayer above, he leapt backward over the edge. The world became dark for a moment, and he realized he had closed his eyes again. He opened them just as his fall came to an abrupt and painful halt. His legs hit, and he crumpled hard onto a solid surface.
He lay there panting hard for a second. Then the ground began to shake, and he opened his mouth to scream Jim's name when the rocky surface beneath him caved, sending him once again into a free-fall.
Jim groaned. His head pounded and his right ankle throbbed with hot pain.
He heard Sandburg scream his name, but it echoed through the cavern, and although it sounded like it came from above, Jim couldn't quite localize the source.
Moments later, a dark figure fell from the darkness above, landing with a hard thump and a surprised grunt.
"Sandburg!" Jim pushed himself to his knees, slid out of his pack, and crawled forward.
Blair stirred, struggling to sit up, and Jim carefully grabbed the young man's arm and helped him up.
"Jim?" Blair blinked at him, his blue irises practically glowing against the whites of his eyes in the darkness.
"I can't see a thing."
Jim gave a smile that was lost in the darkness. "I can."
Blair took a breath. "Right." He coughed as some of the dust from his fall settled. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I think I wrenched my ankle a bit, but it's not bad. How 'bout you?"
"Okay, I think. Where are we?"
Jim focused on penetrating the dimness. He saw rocky walls all around them.
"I think this is the same place," Jim commented, pushing himself to his feet. He limped forward, standing in front of the wall. "If I'm remembering this right, after some shaking, one of these walls gave way to reveal a metallic surface. You touched it, didn't you? Then there was a light."
A crackling sound echoed through the walls of the cavern. "Hutch to Ellison and Sandburg. Come in."
Jim turned and saw Sandburg grab the radio from his belt. "Sandburg here."
"What happened to you two?"
"I think we've found the cavern. We're okay for the moment. Uh, out." Blair looked up at Jim. "Yeah, to answer your questions, that's how I remember it, too. But the walls are all intact right now."
"Not for long." Jim knelt by his pack, unzipped it, and pulled out the small pick.
Blair wiped the sweat from his brow as he used his own pick to hack away at the rocky surface. They'd been at it for an hour, going slowly to avoid damaging whatever might lay beneath.
"Hold up, Chief. I hear something."
A low rumble started and the ground began to quake.
"Watch out." Jim yanked Sandburg away from the rocky wall just as it collapsed, revealing a smooth, metallic surface etched with symbols.
"Oh, man," Blair breathed as the trembling subsided. A soft glow emanated from the thing. "Here it is." Blair's fingers hovered over a spiral symbol. "This is what I touched before... you know."
"So, do you just touch it again?"
"How would I know?"
"C'mon, Sandburg, this is your area."
Blair through Jim a skeptical look. "Right. Aliens are my area? I don't think so."
"What makes you so sure thing is alien?"
Blair cocked an eyebrow at Jim. "Well, it has a weird glow, it's etched with symbols that are mostly unrecognizable, and, uh, oh yeah, it sent us back in time."
The glowing steadily increased, accompanied by a high-pitched whine.
The radio cackled again, and Blair grabbed his from his belt. "Hutch? Hello?"
He got only static. Shooting a look at Jim, Blair hooked his radio back onto his belt and turned his attention to the device. "Jim, I'm not sure this is the right thing to do, but here goes." Taking a breath, Blair touched the symbol.
The shaking began again, nearly knocking Blair from his feet. The glow turned to bright, white light as the high-pitched whine rose to a scalding scream. Jim yelled, placing his hands over his ears and dropping to his knees.
"Jim!" Blair lunged toward his friend just as rocks rained down upon them.
Starsky saw fingers gripping the ledge and hurried forward. He looked over and saw his partner staring up at him, his face lined with worry.
"You okay?" Starsky grabbed Hutch's wrist and helped him up.
"Yeah." Detaching himself from the rope, Hutch sighed. "I didn't find them. There's nothing. The rope's been cut, but I didn't see any sign of either of them."
"So, you think we should call search and rescue?"
Hutch shrugged. "I guess so. I hope Ellison and Sandburg found what they were looking for and that there's nobody to rescue, but yeah, Starsk, I think we'd better play it safe."
Simon chewed his unlit cigar as he turned the page of that morning's newspaper. His eyes strayed to the sleeping detective, then slid to the unconscious grad student in the other bed. With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair.
A groan brought his attention back to Jim. Pushing out of his chair, he set the paper on his seat and moved to his friend's bedside. "Jim?"
Blue eyes cracked open, and Jim squinted up at him, his forehead creased. "Simon?" He coughed and lifted his head. "Where's...."
"Right there." Simon pointed.
Jim turned his head to see Blair laying still in the bed next to him. Dropping his head back to the pillow, Jim closed his eyes. "Is he okay?"
"Yeah. He's got a concussion and a few scrapes, but he's going to be fine. Both of you were suffering from dehydration and hypothermia when we found you."
Simon shrugged. "The Cascade area got hit with a modest earthquake, and we figure you guys took a tumble off the mountainside during your hike. They found you unconscious in a cavern with a couple of backpacks and an old walkie-talkie. If it hadn't been for the search and rescue dogs, they never would have found you two there."
"Did the S&R teams find anything else, sir?"
Jim sighed. "Never mind. It'll sound crazy."
The weak voice pulled Jim's attention to the other bed, and he smiled when he saw Blair gazing at him with bleary eyes.
"Are we back?" Blair croaked, then cleared his throat.
"Yeah, Chief, we're back."
"And you damn well almost didn't make it back." Simon grumbled.
"Jim?" Blair asked weakly. "You think they're still alive?"
"Who?" Simon placed his hands on Jim's bed rail. "Are there other people trapped?"
"No. No." Jim quickly reassured the captain. "Nothing like that. Just... Uh. While Sandburg and I were trapped, we started talking about looking up a couple of old friends."
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