The Laundromat's clientele watched, fascinated,
as Starsky took another step back. This woman was dangerous. Starsky
registered the suspicion in her eyes, the angry line of her mouth, as she
continued to advance upon him...closer...closer.... Step by step he
retreated until she had him cornered, backing up against the wall. A
predatory hand reached for his makeshift wrapping. "Don't -- don't do
anything --" He tried for softness.
Her expression didn't change. "Thief!"
she hissed. "Pervert! Robbing my washing-line!"
"Call the cops!" one of the bystanders
"Already did," she said grimly, her
attention undiverted from her prey.
Tales he'd read in Hutch's Geographic flashed
across Starsky's memory: wasn't there something about the way a snake could
immobilize a rabbit?
"I was right there at my neighbor's
house," she went on. "Just next door. We saw it all."
Starsky gulped. "All?"
She smiled a nasty smile. "Everything. We
were watching every move you made. Don't think you're going to get away with
this." She came even closer, hemming him in. "Left a message for
my husband, too. He'll be here any time now."
Starsky cast a quick look around, seeking escape.
He could feel his precarious costume coming adrift -- that knot was
definitely slipping...there must be some way....
"His fault," he told her with a nod
toward Hutch, hovering behind her.... "It was all his idea. He made me
do it." He spoke over her head, appealing to his partner. "You got
me into this -- you'd better talk her down." He attempted another
conciliatory glance in her direction. "Lady doesn't like me for some
The pathos he managed to inject into the
statement seemed to pay off and she half-turned to Hutch, considering,
Hutch seized the moment. "Talk to you,
ma'am?" he requested humbly. "It's not the way it looks."
She hesitated, clearly unconvinced, and Starsky
took the opportunity to begin a cautious movement beyond her reach. "I
know what I saw --" she began and then halted as the sound of the siren
broke in. "Cops can deal with it now." She turned back to where
Starsky was trying to slink away. "He's still wearing my stuff."
"Look." Hutch held up his badge.
"We're both cops. I can explain. It's okay."
Her expression stayed skeptical as half a dozen
new-comers converged on the scene and clustered around her. Hutch started in
on explanations, started over when an irate husband joined the group.
Starsky, meanwhile, was prowling along the ranks of machines, trying to
locate which swirling mass could be identified as his own clothes. The
talking was going on...and on. His indignant question died as he looked up
and noticed the way he was being observed by the others -- the two cops, his
accuser and The hostile husband, two others who had just joined the party.
And Hutch -- who now left the group and came toward him.
"Where's my clothes?" Starsky demanded.
"Around. Listen, Starsk, I found a way out
of this for you. See those two over there? -- TV news crew, would you
believe? Just happened to be passing and saw the black-and white. Mrs Macari
is giving them the story."
"So? Where's my clothes?"
Hutch opened one of the machines and extracted a
soggy bundle which he pressed into his partner's arms. "Here. Get
dressed, why don't you?"
Starsky made a half-hearted effort to squeeze the
water from his shirt. His voice rose. "You want me to catch pneumonia?
"Don't worry about it. C'mon, they just want
a picture." He avoided Starsky's incredulous glare. "You'll be on
TV tonight. Isn't that nice?"
Before Starsky could find more words, Mrs. Macari
was beside them, patting her hair, smoothing her dress. Hutch shepherded his
partner to stand next to her and took up a restraining position on his other
side, while Starsky stood, miserably clutching his dripping laundry.
"Only way she's going to drop the charges,
Starsk," Hutch whispered. "Have to go along with it. Smile --
think of those headlines -- hero-cop story..."
The camera whirred and then the group dispersed
except for Mrs. Macari, still relating her story to the news crew.
"Shouldn't you slip into something a little
less -- uh -- formal?" Hutch prompted. He encountered Starsky's
unforgiving look, thought for a moment. "Got an idea," he
continued encouragingly. "Just wait there." Starsky waited as the
minutes ticked by until Hutch's glad tones broke in on his misery.
"There you go -- lucky it was in the trunk."
"Your Stan Laurel outfit. Remember where
we're going after this? C'mon -- lady wants her laundry back."
"Want me to get arrested, don't you?"
but Starsky accepted the proffered alternative.
"So stay there," he ordered as Hutch
showed signs of rejoining the others. "Cover me, willya."
Hutch folded the discarded costume and returned
it to its owner with polite thanks. Entranced by her own narrative, she
didn't even look at him as she took possession of her property. Starsky was
already heading for the door and Hutch followed.
Quickly, quietly, they made their getaway.