There he sat, in Jail.
"Come on, Starsky old buddy, old friend, when are you going to sell me that card, huh?" Ken Hutchinson complained. "I've been stuck here for six turns already."
Dave Starsky, chin in hands and eyes fixed on the monopoly board where Hutch's marker was parked in "Jail," was a portrait of studied innocence. He picked up the dice and rattled them thoughtfully.
"Suffering is good for the soul, don't you know that?" he said. He smiled sweetly. "Besides, you beat me the last game."
"The last two," Hutch corrected, glaring at the mountain of play money tucked under Starsky's edge of the board. Starsky rolled the dice and began dutifully to pace out the moves with his marker. Hutch leaned closer to the board, vulture-like, as Starsky's marker closed inevitably on Park Place. Hutch had a hotel on Park Place.
"Oh-oh," his partner groaned, "not again." He reached for a sheaf of his winnings, but Hutch slapped his hand down on Starsky's and the money.
"That's not good enough."
"Huh? What d'ya mean?"
"I want The Card."
"The get-out-of-jail·free card? No way. It's against the rules."
"No it isn't. I'll take the card and you keep the cash."
"Since when do you make up the rules as you go? Nothin' doin'. You take the dice and roll your way out."
"I can always depend on you when the chips are down," Hutch said sourly. "Would I let you sit there for six turns?"
"Damn right you would," said Starsky, and before Hutch realized what was happening, Starsky grabbed his hand and slapped both money and dice into it. "It's your turn. Roll."
"Forget it," Hutch said, sitting back on the couch and shrugging his shoulders to work out the kinks. He stretched his lanky legs out and reached for his can of beer. "I'm sick of monopoly. I quit."
"It's warm," Starsky warned.
"What?" Hutch said, taking a big swig.
"The beer's warm."
"Ugh! Now you tell me."
Hauling himself to his feet, Starsky crossed to the little hotel refrigerator and tossed over a chilled can, which Hutch caught. The can spat open and Hutch poured a healthy swallow down his throat, watching Starsky. Starsk was grouchy as only four days shut up in a hotel room could make him. He sauntered over to the room's single window, reaching for the drapes.
"Careful," Hutch said automatically.
"Of what?" Starsky pulled the drapes aside. "The gorgeous view? Ladies and gents, boys and girls, I reveal to you the hidden secrets of the FBI's ultra-high-security hideaway, bullet-proof glass and all--"
There was nothing to see but a blank brick wall about four feet away from the twentieth floor of the Rankin Hotel. Starsky hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his jeans and stared out at the wall in the fading daylight.
"Lovely, lovely, lovely," he said. "Much more of this and I think I'll go stir-crazy. What day is it, Thursday? Or is it still Wednesday?"
Hutch fished a section of the newspaper off the carpet and looked for the date.
"And the Senators aren't supposed to get here 'til Sunday. Wonderful," Starsky grumbled. He bowed his head slightly, face sobering. "Well, now we know how Joe Derniak felt."
"Yuh," Hutch said, and stared at his friend's slumped back. Sighing, he picked up the deck of cards and began to lay them out for Solitaire. He was hard-put to find enough room on the coffee table among the Monopoly board, assorted cans and bottles, newspapers, a TV Guide, and Starsky's bag of stale Doritos. He didn't really feel inclined to play cards, not even with himself.
"Hey, maybe there's something worthwhile on the tube," Starsky said, turning back to the room.
"You already spent half the day watching game shows and soaps," Hutch said, but rolled his eyes in a martyred expression and threw the TV Guide to Starsky, who plopped himself in the middle of the double bed.
"Lessee..." Starsky flipped through the pages. "The Dodgers are playing Pittsburgh... Beverly Hillbillies... Name That Tune... Dance in America... Man from UNCLE... Green--"
"Did you say Dance in America?"
"Uh-huh. Channel 13. Hmmm. Man From UNCLE sounds good. 'Solo and Illya battle Thrush for a...'"
But Hutch had already turned the television on to Dance in America. The screen filled with a closeup of an out-of-focus green and pink male thigh bouncing up and down in time to electronic music. The camera pulled back to reveal an entire troop of green-and-pink-clad dancers.
"Come on, Hutch, you're not gonna watch that, are you?"
"Be quiet, will you? Give it a chance, the dancers are terrific."
"Looks like they've got the trots to me."
Hutch ignored him and turned up the volume.
"What kinda band do they use to make all that racket," Starsky went on, "the L.A. Trash-Can Lid-Banger's Society?"
"Will you just watch the dance? A little culture will do you good."
"It's the costumes that do it to me. Pink and green. Reminds me of the plastic vomits we usta put on the girls' seats in grade school--"
"All right!" Hutch smacked the off-button, glaring at his partner. "I've had it up to here" -- his neck -- "with you. It's bad enough having to sit here on our cans for a week, with the feds around us like ticks on a dog, without your constant bitching. Just stuff it, Starsky."
Starsky's face was momentarily blank. Then he looked away ruefully, staring at his handful of soggy Doritos.
"Yeah. Sorry, Hutch. Guess we're both a little hyped. It's this sitting around, hiding, wondering how and when they'll try to get to us..."
The door to the outer room of the suite opened, and a young, dark-haired man poked his head in, smiling pleasantly: Terry Nash, their fellow inmate.
"Hi, dinner's here. Pork chops tonight. Who won the Monopoly championship?"
"No one," Hutch said. "We gave up."
Starsky reached across to the TV and turned on The Man From UNCLE.
"Go ahead and eat, I wanna watch this."
Hutch followed Terry into the outer sitting room, where four FBI agents were helping themselves to the pork chops. The food smelled good. You could always count on the Rankin's kitchen. The feds' charge account had to be into four figures by now.
"Nice and quiet so far," Hutch said to the agent ahead of him, a man named Matt Something-or-other.
"You're perfectly safe here, Officer Hutchinson," the man said, "unless you play poker with Terry, that is."
"When we eventually track down who Terry was before he was brainwashed, I'll bet we find out he was the hottest gambler on the coast," another agent added.
Terry smiled sheepishly.
"Cleaned out the feds, did you?" Hutch asked.
"Well, they may have a little cash left," Terry laughed.
Starsky came in throwing several chops on his plate along with a huge mound of mashed potatoes, and began to drown the whole business with gravy. Hutch went back to their room and set his plate on the table, heading for the john. On the TV, Napoleon Solo was being lectured by Mr. Waverly on the dangers of indiscriminate womanizing. Hutch turned the volume down as he passed by, thinking how much Waverly sounded like Captain Dobey with a British accent.
Thinking about Dobey, Hutch looked at his watch. Dobey would be home with his family by now unless something was keeping him at his office. Hutch wished he could call the squad room and check in, find out what was going on out in the real world. Being shut up like this, virtually incommunicado, was sheer hell for boredom and nerves. Especially nerves.
No one knew much about the desert base that Starsky, Terry, the Baron, and he had stormed and cleaned out the week before. They had gone there to clear themselves of a frame-up, and discovered a covert operation that took people with difficult-to-trace backgrounds and brainwashed them into becoming single-minded assassins aimed at specific targets.
Terry had shot and killed a federal witness, Joe Derniak, because he had been "programed" to believe that Derniak had set up the murder of Terry's wife. But it turned out that Terry had probably never had a wife. It was unlikely that his name was even Terry. Whoever the people were who had established the brainwashing operation, they had money, influence, government connections at high levels, and the most sophisticated behavior mod techniques that Hutch had ever heard of. A secret Senate committee from Washington that was investigating such matters was sending representatives to inspect the base site and personally question those involved.
But the snake's nest hadn't been destroyed, only moved. No sooner had Hutch, Starsky, Terry, and the Baron returned to L.A. than a sniper had tried to shoot them down, managing to wound the Baron. Huggy's friend was in Rampart Hospital, recovering, but under strict FBI security. And the feds had whisked the rest of them off to this hideaway to await the Senate investigators. Whatever was going on, it was hot, hot, hot. It had all the earmarks of another Watergate mess, run by the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, or even the FBI itself. That last possibility made Hutch's skin crawl. Only the feds, and Dobey, knew where he, Terry and Starsky were.
It had gone very quiet in the other rooms.
"Open Channel D," the TV said.
A muffled clatter came from somewhere. Probably the tube. Hutch dried his hands and went in to eat his dinner. He was just sitting down on the couch when the door to the sitting room burst open. Gagging and coughing, Starsky fell through the doorway. A swirl of greenish mist poured in behind him.
He was beside Starsky instantly, pulling him up, and through the roiling gas, he saw prone bodies convulsing on the floor of the front room. Abruptly, his eyes teared, his nose stung, and something spun his head wildly and took all the starch out of his legs. He choked. Hauling at Starsky's collar, he tried to get up. He tried not to inhale. He couldn't see for tears.
The room reeled, and his arms were suddenly too heavy. He grabbed the can of beer from the coffee table and flung it with all his strength at the window, but it didn't break. Starsky slumped down out of his grasp, and then the carpet was coming up to meet his face.
They had to breathe. The room was dimming, as it lurched sickeningly. The bathroom. Towels. Water. The shower. Somehow, he dragged himself and Starsky into it. Slammed the door shut with his foot. Hit the shower controls. Shoved soaked bath towels against the·crack at the base of the door. Hauled himself and Starsky into the tub. The black pinprickles were all over him now, he couldn't see. Grabbed a washcloth, wet, slapped it over Starsky's face. Coughing himself like his throat was stripped raw. Shaking Starsk. Shaking him. Nothing. Pulling the cloth away. Shaking him harder.
He had stopped breathing.
A new rush of terror poured fresh adrenalin into Hutch's blood, and his mind cleared enough to realize that he had to act, fast. The chilly water was splashing off Starsky's dead-white face, lax and empty. He pulled his partner across his lap, letting the head roll back, then bent close, opening Starsky's mouth and force-breathing a desperate lungful of air into him. Again. Again.
Still nothing. Hutch glanced fearfully at the door, but none of the green mist seemed to be getting in. He shivered in the stream of icy water, and forced another breath into Starsky's lungs.
"Come on..." he gasped, and breathed into him again. Help. They needed help. But the only phone was in that roomful of dead men. Hutch kept breathing air into Starsky's lungs, becoming more and more giddy as the pinprickles stung harder and closer inside his brain. What kind of gas was it? Poison? Asphyxiant? Nerve gas? Didn't know. Deadly. Breathe, Starsk, breathe... The room was spinning too fast. He couldn't keep it up anymore, his head bowed against Starsky's cold cheek, and the black stinging engulfed him entirely.