WARNING: The Starsky and Hutch fan fiction of Alexis Rogers is homoerotic in nature and theme, and often contains explicit descriptions of sexual acts between two or more men. If this adult content offends you, please go play some place else. If you are under the age of consent where you live, please go away. If you don't like the laws where you live, change them. Remember, one can make a difference.
RATING: This story carries the slash rating of "G." This is a slashier version of the story that originally appeared in "Strange Justice", a gen zine with a supernatural theme. The zine won in Fan Q in 1982.
DISCLAIMERS: This story exists solely for the enjoyment of those of us who care, and is not intended to infringe on any copyright or other legality of "Starsky and Hutch", Aaron Spelling, Leonard Goldberg, David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, William Blinn, Michael Fisher or anydamnbody else that I might have overlooked. No money has been made from the story nor is there likely to be.
COMMENTS should be directed to Alexis Rogers: email@example.com
Please do not repost this story on another website, discussion list, or anywhere else.
Some Days the Dragon Wins
"Starsky. Hutch." Gruff words muffled by Dobey's closed door. "In here, now."
Glancing across his desk at his partner, Starsky tossed a report in the Out basket. "Are we in trouble again?"
"Only one way to find out." Hutch pushed back his chair. Starsky followed him into Dobey's office and sat down warily.
"Don't get comfortable," Dobey muttered around the telephone. "Yeah, okay." He scribbled on a yellow legal pad. "That all you have?" He listened, chewing on the pencil. "Okay, five minutes. They'll be ready." He dropped the receiver into its cradle and rubbed his hands over his face.
"We'll be ready for what?" Hutch stared out the window, drew a line across the smoggy grime on the pane.
"Any details?" Starsky slid to the edge of the chair.
"San Diego just called." Dobey studied his notes. "They have a sniper in a bean field, south of Pendleton near Carlsbad. Guy's got a hostage. Sheriff's Department thinks he'll talk to you."
"Who is it?" Hutch asked as he leaned over Dobey's desk, stretching to read the notes.
Checking his watch, Dobey pushed his chair back. "They think it's a guy named Alfred Grayson. Ah, you've got a chopper to catch, we'll talk on the way up -- you know Grayson?"
"Yeah," Starsky answered, as he followed the two men into the hall. "His brains got scrambled in Nam. Supposed to be in a VA hospital. What happened?"
The elevator opened, people streamed out. Dobey answered as they stepped in, "You'll have to ask Sheriff Bills. He's waiting on you."
A blast of hot dry air greeted them as they stepped onto the roof. Starsky watched the helicopter approach, then grabbed at his jacket as the turbulence assaulted him. Ducking his head, he dashed under the swirling blades and climbed into the machine. Hutch followed.
Twenty minutes in the air took them over congested freeways and into Carlsbad, where two Sheriff's deputies met them. One man drove while the other -- his name plate read 'Engell' -- turned around to face the back-seat.
"How about a briefing?" Hutch asked, wiping his hands down his jeans.
"Apparently the perp, Grayson, walked out of the VA hospital and hitched a ride with a farmer," Engell replied.
"Where'd he get the gun?" Starsky demanded.
"The farmer had a gun rack in the back of his pick-up. Looks like Grayson grabbed a rifle and made the guy pull off the road. Then, when the truck got stuck in the mud, Grayson pulled the farmer out and started running. He took shots at some field hands, who called us. The doctor at the hospital said you two had handled Grayson before."
The driver turned right onto a dirt road into a field verdant with tall plants winding around poles and clinging to chicken wire. They stopped beside a cluster of black and whites, where they were joined by a group of men.
"I'm Bills," a balding, paunchy man announced as Hutch and Starsky climbed out into the noon blaze. "This is Jose Rodriquez, the farmer Grayson was holding."
Hutch surveyed the scene. There was no sign of Grayson. "What happened?"
"About...", Bills glanced at his watch, "ten minutes ago, Grayson fired six shots, like he was shooting at selected targets. He aimed, then fired. Really strange. Then he shoved Mr. Rodriquez into the plants and disappeared down an air-shaft."
"What air-shaft?" Starsky squinted in the direction the Sheriff pointed.
"It's an old concrete thing, mostly covered with dirt because it's been here for thirty, thirty-five years. The shafts connect with miles of under-ground bunkers, constructed during World War Two. They were supposedly sealed in the early fifties, but it's federal government, and you know how they do things."
"I wonder what spooked him?" Blinking in the bright sunlight, Starsky pulled his sunglasses down from their perch on top of his head.
"Nothing that I'm aware of. Rodriquez says the man was quiet, then he muttered something in a strange language." Bills spread his hand in a helpless gesture.
Starsky exchanged a glance with Hutch, then shrugged. "Probably Laotian. Let's take a look at the air shaft."
The air shaft was a moldering concrete cube, about four feet high, jutting out of the muck. Country-vine grew over it, but no bean vines; the farmer knew where it was and had steered the farm machinery well clear. There had been grills on two sides of the block, but now they were sealed by metal plates. Footprints led to the overgrown shaft and stopped there.
"Hutch." Starsky slipped his fingers under one of the plates, and it slid to one side on its remaining bolt. "Here's how he got in."
"Yeah." Hutch turned to the Sheriff. "Got a flashlight?"
A deputy handed him one, and he circled it in the pit. "Alfred? Alfred Grayson? Alfred, it's Hutch. Remember me? Starsky and I are here to take you to a safe place, Alfred."
There was no answer. Starsky leaned over, peered carefully over the edge into the inky abyss. The opening would be just wide enough to squeeze his shoulders through. "Yeah, a safe place, Alfred. Where the VC can't get you," he called. "Real safe. We promise."
Bills shrugged. "He isn't coming out, boys."
"Looks that way," Hutch said. He turned to the Sheriff. "So how do you want to play it?"
Bills took off his cap, ran his hand over his sweaty pate, and replaced the cap. "I don't want to send anyone down there until we get some maps. I sent a man into town as soon as Grayson ducked down the hole, but the damn clerk who usually handles the maps is on vacation, and no one can find them."
"Murphy's Law," Starsky grumbled.
"Are there any other air shafts?" Hutch asked.
"Sure, hundreds. But I don't have all the surface locations, and most of them are bound to be sealed--if not properly, then just by age. There are entrances on the cliffs over by the ocean. I called Pendleton and the Coast Guard and they said they'd put a watch on that end. So I guess we should sit tight until we find the maps."
"I don't like Grayson being down there, Hutch," Starsky said. "Maybe he'll just wander around, and maybe he'll freak out and shoot himself, but he might find another way out. And he's got the rifle." He looked up suddenly. "Maybe he's out of ammo?"
Bills shook his head. "I wish. He took a whole box with him from Rodriquez' truck."
Somehow, Starsky wasn't surprised. "Then we gotta go down after him."
"Right." Hutch looked around the field, then in the hole. "You first."
"Why do I always have to go first?"
"Because I have the flashlight." He moved the beam up the shaft wall. "Look. Is that a service ladder?"
Starsky pressed his knees into the mud and reached over the edge. His hand closed on a cold metal pipe, horizontal and maybe an inch in diameter. "Feels like something off an old boat."
"Think it'll hold us?"
Tugging on the rusting rung, Starsky nodded.
"Okay, let's go." He shoved the flashlight inside the waistband of his jeans and helped Starsky slither inside.
Testing each rung before putting his full weight on it, Starsky inched downward and tried not to think about how dangerous the hole could be, especially if Grayson was waiting at the bottom. He stretched his leg to compensate for a missing rung and lost his balance. "Huuuuuuuutch!" He landed on his back in the soft earth, his feet in the air.
"Starsk? Are you okay? Starsk?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Filthy, but fine. Come on, get down here with that light. I can't see my hand in front of my face." He stood and fumbled for the bottom of the ladder. "Be careful, there's a miss--".
But it was too late. Hutch fell, and they ended up arms around legs on the floor. Starsky pushed at his partner. "Is this what you call bein' careful?"
"Sergeant Hutchinson?" A voice called from the surface.
"You all right?"
"We're terrific, just clumsy," Starsky yelled as he got up and brushed more dirt from his pants. To Hutch he said, "Give me the flashlight." He flicked it on. "Why do I suddenly feel like Alice in Won-derland."
"Don't know. Especially since she's the blonde. Tell you what, you can play the rabbit." Hutch shifted positions. "Here, give me a hand."
"You already have two. You'd look weird with three."
When Hutch was on his feet, he wrapped his arms around Starsky. "I might look weird with three hands but think what I could do with them."
Starsky turned into Hutch's embrace and kissed him. "When we step into a dangerous situation, I always wonder if there will be time for us on the other side."
The light poked a small hole in the blackness, but showed nothing. Starsky started forward, inching along the clammy concrete wall. The air shaft connected with a corridor, high enough to stand in. The dank air closed around them. The dirt underfoot muffled the sounds as they walked.
They rounded a ninety degree corner, and Starsky promptly tripped. The light sailed out of his hand, arcing like a falling star, then disappeared with a tinkling crash. "Shit!"
"You okay?" Hutch's hand found Starsky's shoulder.
"Yeah." Starsky stood, rubbing his left knee. "Just not one of my graceful days. Did you see where the light went?"
"Sounded like it broke when it hit. I'll get another, or maybe I should get two this time."
"Good idea, but let's both go back." Starsky reached for Hutch's hand. "Hang on to me. I'm afraid of the dark, especially when it's this dark." He touch the cold steel of his gun, made sure it, at least, was still there.
"It's just like Carlsbad Caverns when they turn off the lights."
"Yeah, but this isn't that Carlsbad and there's no one to turn 'em back on." Starsky griped Hutch's hand.
They took ten steps and ran into a wall.
"Hey?" Starsky hated the wave of fear that swept through him. "I don't remember a wall here."
"Me either. I'm going to move right. Stay with me."
Clinging to Hutch with his right hand, Starsky used his left hand to feel along the wall. It was not dirt or cement, but he could not quite decide what it was.
Hutch took their joined hands and placed them on the wall. "Here, feel this."
"A seam or something. Concrete on one side and something else on the other. Let's move to your left."
Hanging onto Hutch, Starsky inched forward, his free hand on the wall in front of him. Another corner with a concrete wall. "Hutch, I don't like this."
"Maybe we got turned around. Keep going."
But no matter which way they moved, they could not find the air shaft.
"Okay," Hutch said after a few minutes of fruitless stumbling. "Either we go forward down this tunnel and keep looking for Grayson, or we stay here until Bills comes looking for us."
"If Grayson's down here, we better find him." Starsky decided that moving was preferable to standing still. This place got to him worse than a Hitchcock movie. "He could be anywhere, you know. Bills said there were miles of tunnels down here."
"Well, he's not here and we won't find him standing around talking about it."
"Okay. But we hang onto each other." Hutch's hand in his was clammy.
Starsky led, his fingers on the damp wall, which was caked with soil and cobwebs. "This is ridiculous," he muttered as he took one step, then another. "Wait a minute." He crouched and dug into pliable soil, found concrete beneath it. Then he ran his hand up the wall and discovered a different material, the same as they had encountered at the blocked tunnel. "Hutch?"
"Yeah, I feel it too. Dirt and concrete on the floor, and something else on the walls. Plastic? Couldn't be. How could there be plastic in a World War II bunker? I don't know how high it goes. Higher than I can reach. Wait." Hutch's breathing was so loud it sounded like a microphone effect. "I found a wire...ouch." Sounds of sucking. "Cut my finger...on a nail or something...damn, that hurts. Let me try again. No good. Can you reach it?"
Starsky stretched his arm above his head, then stood on his toes. "No. Can you follow the wire?"
"It goes up. Can you lift me?"
"Yeah." Starsky gripped his fingers together, found Hutch's foot. "Here, stand in my hands. Christ," he groaned as Hutch put his weight on the joined hands. "You're heavy. Hurry up."
"Can't...can't reach it...ouch..." And they tumbled to the ground.
"Get offa me," Starsky shoved. "You weigh a ton."
"Sorry." Hutch rolled away. Alone in the dark. "Don't go too far." He tried to keep his voice light. "Hey--where are you?" Starsky reached out.
"I'm over here." Sunshine in simple words.
Hutch pulled him to his feet. "The wire seemed to run off in this direction. Oh, you can't see me point. I think it runs in a direction opposite from where we came in. Since we can't get out that way, I suggest we follow this wall."
"We could die in here."
"Oh, come on, Starsky. We could also die on the freeway. This way."
The unbroken darkness was eerie and unsettling. Starsky gripped Hutch's shoulder, following him like a guide dog and hoping they would find something--anything--and soon. Well, maybe not just anything. This place was probably full of rats and spiders, maybe even a cadaver or two. And then there was Alfred Grayson, with a deranged mind and a rifle.
Starsky shook his head, closed his eyes, opened them, looked again. "Hutch? Look, up ahead. Do you see that?" Starsky collided with the back of his partner, who had stopped.
"Yeah. I see it. Tiny red spots. Bats, maybe."
"Bats? Vampire bats?"
"You read too many comic books, Starsky."
He peered over Hutch's shoulder, trying to decide what the tiny blinking lights were. "Well, I did see this movie once..."
"Spare me, please. Let's find out. Maybe it really is vampire bats and we can pass from this life into the next. You know the saying--'The life is in the blood, the life is in the blood'."
"Your accent stin-- Hey!" Light. There was faint, filtered light far down the corridor.
"Yeah, I see it. Let's hope it's good news."
To their left was another corridor. Starsky could only see a few feet along the dim tunnel, but there was definitely a light source. Now they had a choice to make. Turn left and move toward the light or proceed straight ahead through the eyes of vampire bats. At the junction, they stopped. Starsky gagged. "My God, what's that smell?"
"Don't know, but it's coming from those red spots. Let's go this way. I seriously doubt if Grayson would have gone through there."
They turned another corner, and Starsky's eyes protested the glare and the smoke from a torch that was anchored to the wall. Tears blurred his vision. Hutch swam in front of him, then disappeared. "Hutch!"
"Down here," Hutch coughed.
Starsky leaned over the edge of a pit that had not been there a minute ago. "You okay?"
"Think so. I can move...oh shit."
"This place is full of bones...and rats. Starsky, get me outta here."
Starsky knelt down to get a better look, but all he could see amounted to a drawing of a black cat in a coal bin at midnight. "Where are you? Say something."
"GET ME THE HELL OUTTA HERE!"
"Testy, aren't we? You could say please, y'know." But he stretched out on his stomach, and leaned as far into the pit as he could. "I don't think I can reach you. Move over under my fingers." Starsky knocked some dirt loose. "Here."
"No good. I can't reach you."
The damp clay was loose, so Starsky dug a small hole, packed it firmly. "I think you can climb out by yourself. Dig a foothold."
"On my way. The rats down here could pull Cinderella's coach without being changed into horses."
"Okay. Gotcha. Hang on and I'll pull you out." Starsky braced himself and tugged. Hutch flew over his head and landed with a thud. Pulling himself upright, Starsky helped Hutch to his feet. They brushed foul smelling debris from Hutch's clothes while Hutch muttered to himself.
"I don't understand where this pit came from. I'd swear it wasn't there a minute ago." Hutch peered over the edge, felt around for clues, then shook his head.
"I don't understand a lot of things, like where those torches came from--hey, did you see that?"
"That way. Another torch. It just flickered on."
"I think you're right." They stopped under one and Hutch sniffed.
"You playin' bloodhound?"
"No. I'm trying to figure out what makes these things work. They don't smell like tar or pine or anything like that. I can't see any wires. Maybe it's propane."
"I know that. But what're they doing down here?"
"Maybe the gas lines were already here. For whatever reason. But I'll be damned if I know why."
"An invasion from Mars?"
"I think your brain's rotted from too much television."
"It was a movie-- Hey, wait a minute. You don't suppose this is a movie set?"
Hutch ran his hand over his face. "Could be. No, somebody would know. It wouldn't be left unguarded."
"Yeah, you'd think so. But I sure wish I knew what was goin' on." Starsky reached out and grabbed Hutch's arm. "Let's go on. But be careful, huh? Don't want you falling into any more holes. Maybe next time I'll be too short to play human ladder." He giggled, but he did not feel very funny.
The tunnel was long, damp, and boring. More torches flared to life as they proceeded. Starsky looked back. Inky blackness. The light was only on in the narrow passage where they now stood. He suppressed a shiver. Carrie's mother's hand rose out of the grave; Dracula's coffin creaked as it opened; millions of warrior ants swarmed over his skin. "Hey! What was that?"
"Don't know. It sounds like water dripping," Hutch said softly.
"Yeah...just some water dripping...but where?"
The passageway ended at a double door set into an archway. The panels were of highly polished wood that was carved with strange symbols. They were not Japanese characters or Egyptian hie-roglyphics. Starsky traced the outline of one of them. "Wonder what they mean?--Hey. This stuff feels like plastic!"
"So did the wall that blocked our way earlier. None of this makes sense." The ends of his fine hair glowed in the torchlight as he shook his head.
Starsky pushed on the door and it opened, creaking on unseen hinges. Firelight flickered in the room ahead as the corridor behind went black. "After you, Alphonse. Wherever we are, they're waiting for us. And if Grayson's really down here..."
Two torches threw ghostly shadows into the corners and highlighted the opalescent blues and pinks of the walls. In the center of the small, square room, emitting half-intensity fluorescent light, was a pillar of pearl white that reached from floor to ceiling. A bas-relief of a very old man with a stern face was set in the center. Starsky ran his hand over the smooth features. "Sorta looks like Kirk Douglas."
Before Hutch could comment, the face metamorphosed into a deep ruddy color, the eyes opening to reveal a bright blue. The unmoving mouth voiced a riddle: "Look deeply into my eyes and you will see that which you will take happily."
The eyes went blank, like a television screen that has been turned off, and an image appeared in them--an image of a large circle on a gray stone wall with a silver handle in its center. The handle moved ninety degrees on the north pivot, returned to its original horizontal position; ninety degrees north, original position; three hundred sixty degrees clockwise to its original position; then ninety degrees south. As the handle returned to home, life faded from the face.
Starsky stared at the pillar, then at Hutch. "What the...?" He touched the face again and watched a repeat. Then he ran his hands over the entire column. "Some kind of hard plastic."
"Yeah, the walls, too. But I can't find any wires. Maybe they run through the pillar. Any way to get inside?"
"Not that I can find," Starsky admitted. "Y'know, I'm beginning to think we dropped in on The Twilight Zone."
"Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee."
"Not funny, Hutch!"
"Neither was that all-day marathon of Twilight Zone. Eight hours, for christsakes, Channel 11 should have their license revoked."
"Nobody made you stay and watch."
Hutch shrugged. "There wasn't anything else to do. Oh oh...I think the lights are dimming."
"How the hell can torchlight dim?"
"I don't know." Hutch reached up towards one of the torches. "I can't reach it, but it's definitely dimming."
"Hey! A door." Starsky watched as an opening appeared in a wall. "Looks like we're being shown the way."
"Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee."
The door closed with a snap as they passed through it, catching the tail of Starsky's light jacket. The fabric tore when the door refused to budge.
More corridor: another stretch of narrow tunnel without decoration or illusion. Starsky listened in the intense silence, hoping for a clue. There had to be an explanation for this, even if it was Candid Camera.
Another door slid open with a hum, closed behind them. This room was the same size and color as the first, but had light only in one corner, where it illuminated a circle on a gray stone wall. An empty safe was concealed under a heavy mass of cobwebs. Starsky examined the rest of the room, but found nothing.
"Y'know, these cobwebs aren't sticky."
Starsky turned to face his partner. "Huh?"
Hutch held out a handful of cobwebs. "They aren't sticky and there's no dust on them."
"Dee dee dee dee." Before he could enjoy the joke, a flash of light caught his eye. "Jesus Christ!" His brain said there was a fifteen- foot lizard leaping through the air at him. Instinct took over. "Huuuuuuutch!" He drew the Smith and Wesson and fired.
The wall exploded, but the lizard still hovered.
"Who art thou? Whom dost thou serve?" A strange voice asked.
"Starsk." Hutch's voice was low and urgent.
Starsky turned, faced a tall, thin man encased in shiny medieval armor, complete with helmet and bright purple plume. The knight was braced in battle stance, his sword ready. Swiveling on the balls of his feet, Starsky looked from one hallucination to the other. "Dear God, please let me be dreaming." Then the lizard faded into a puff of green, acrid smoke.
Hutch flashed his badge. "We're police. Who the hell are you?"
Shaking despite himself, Starsky demanded, "And what is it with the hall of horrors number?" He glanced over his shoulder, but the only thing there was the hole in the wall and the dissipating smoke.
"I am Captain Henry. I serve his majesty, King Richard." The polished sword reflected the torchlight. "We have no need of 'police' here."
Starsky stepped to Hutch's left. He was not quite sure what they had found, but with a madman loose in this funhouse, they did not need more complications.
Hutch continued. "What are you doing here?"
"I have come to destroy Kandaar. Who is thy master and what is thy mission?"
"What's a Kandaar?" Starsky glared at the character and wondered if Grayson had not found the right place, after all.
"Kandaar is the evil wizard. Answer my question: Whom dost thou serve?" Henry stepped forward, pointed his sword at Starsky's throat.
"We serve the city of Los Angeles, and--" Hutch began.
"And that slave driver, Dobey," Starsky mumbled.
"Thou art slaves!" A look of total disgust registered on Henry's face and he backed out of the room, through the door from which he had come. Before they could move to pursue him, the door vanished and the wall returned to its former appearance.
"Terrific. Now what?" Starsky ran his fingers over the gray surface, looking for the opening. It was not there.
Hutch investigated the hole Starsky's gun had made. "This stuff is paper thin. We should be able to break through." He pulled out the Magnum, used it like a hammer, tapping lightly on the wall.
Starsky copied the procedure. "Here, maybe." He hit the wall with the butt of his gun and a tiny crack snaked across the surface. Together they created a hole that led into a corridor.
Slipping through the jagged edges, Starsky peered down another stretch of dark tunnel. "This place is beginning to get on my nerves. We'll never find that...that...well, whatever he was, and we'll probably never find Grayson."
The lights went out behind them, but an after-image of the lizard remained as if etched on scratchboard. Hutch snickered into Starsky's ear, "Dee dee dee dee..."
A torch flickered on about fifty feet in front of them.
"Hutch, why don't you admit you put something funny in my coffee so we can go home?"
"No such luck. What do you make of Captain Henry?"
"Don't know. Costume was strange, and it's not even Halloween. And what's he doing down here? What's any of this stuff doing down here?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. The best thing we can do now is find our way out and start over again. Maybe with the help of those maps Bills is looking for."
They followed the passageway until it ended in another pair of massive double wooden doors, only these were decorated with elfin figures holding crystals in their tiny hands. Starsky tried the ornate handle. "Locked." He ran his hands over the surface. He eyed the door, then glanced backward. He could see nothing. There was no other way to go. "Shall we?"
They rammed their shoulders into the center of the doors. The panels did not budge. But the next time, the doors groaned. Starsky threw all his weight and landed inside the room, head over heels. He sat there until Hutch pulled him to his feet.
"Holy shit!" The room was the size of a lecture hall. A banquet table filled most of it. Tiered chandeliers sparkled, scattering candlelight throughout the room.
Hutch examined the nearest wall, where cobwebs cascaded over tattered maroon velvet draperies. "I don't know who did the decorating, but it's lousy." On the opposite side of the room was a long row of paintings. He moved to study a portrait of a beautiful, regal woman with wild crimson hair. "Frame's a cheap imitation, but the artwork is very good," he commented.
Starsky circled the monstrous table. "This thing must seat at least fifty people." It was covered in the same rich and tattered fabric as the draperies. Dishes of gold, rimmed with precious stones, were littered with bones. Burgundy liquid in a giant goblet sloshed over his hand as he twirled a cup, but the wine was tepid and odorless. "Probably colored water," he muttered, "but I'm not gonna taste it to find out." The entire mess was latticed with cobwebs. "It's fake...all of it. What is this place?"
"Don't know, but somebody went to a lot of time and effort to set it all up."
Reaching out to touch the cobwebs, Starsky jumped. A large spider crawled across the place setting in front of him. "That's not plastic!"
"Starsky, it's just a spider. They live here. Spiders like the nice warm weather in California. Don't bother her and she won't bother you."
Backing away from the table, Starsky replied, "Me bother that thing?--no way."
Dominating the table was a large throne that looked like it was made of solid brass. "I think this one's real." He tried to lift the chair, but could not. Checking for spiders first, he sat down, then picked up the ornate scepter that rested beside the jeweled plate.
"What?" Something overhead sizzled. Starsky looked from Hutch to the ceiling, and did a rolling dive to the floor. A large drop of liquid fell onto the chair, spat and hissed as it hit the velvet seat cover.
Hutch was beside him, breathing fast. "You all right?"
"Yeah. I think so." He looked up, examined the chair, then the row of pictures on the wall. "Clingfire."
"Clingfire. Darkover! Marian Zimmer Brad- ley."
"Another double feature on Fright Night?"
"No, no, look at the pictures. Those people all have red hair and blue stones around their necks. It's a bunch of books about a planet named Darkover. Bradley wrote the books."
"What's that got to do with--?"
"I don't know, but maybe if you read science fiction instead of the Reader's Digest, you could tell me." He shivered. "Let's get out of here. That stuff's not plastic--it's probably acid, and I don't mean LSD."
As they left, Starsky watched the candles dim, plunging the room in blue light that glowed from the stones in the paintings.
Another short but winding corridor brought them to a small room illuminated by a single sputtering candle. They stopped in the doorway to allow their eyes to adjust.
Bones and garbage cluttered the floor, and the air was pungent with decay and excrement. In the far corner was a huge treasure chest, overflowing with what looked like gold pieces and jewels.
Light reflected on something behind the chest that was not plastic. "Hutch," Starsky whispered, then crouched, pulling his gun. "Alfred, it's us--it's Star--"
A blue flash preceded the thunder of a rifle shot. Plastic shattered like chips of ice. Starsky aimed in the direction of the treasure chest, but before he could fire, the room flooded with harsh artificial light and Captain Henry marched in. "What the--?"
Grayson fired again.
Henry screamed, crashed into the panel behind him, and folded, clutching his leg. Before Starsky could react, Grayson scrambled right past him, bolting out the same door that Henry had opened. Starsky tried to follow, but the corridor was totally black. Somewhere, another door slammed.
Groping his way back, Starsky found Hutch kneeling beside the strange character. Holstering his gun, he said, "Got away."
Hutch removed the other man's helmet. "But Captain Kid isn't going anywhere." Carrot-red hair pressed in tiny ringlets to a forehead lined with pain. The boy's bright blue eyes were glazed with shock. Captain Henry was a kid--eighteen at most. His violet plume drooped over his discarded helmet.
Starsky crouched beside his partner, touched the left leg where Hutch had removed the full-weight armor from the boy's thigh. "Nasty. How're we gonna get out of here?"
"Let's stop the bleeding first. How clean's your t-shirt?"
"Please, my leg hurts." Henry's face was white, his lips drawn into a tight line.
"Clean enough, I guess." Starsky removed his jacket and holster, then his shirt. "It'll do for now."
Hutch tore the shirt into strips while Starsky redressed. The kid groaned as Hutch lifted his leg to get the bandage around the injury. "Grit your teeth, Sir Knight, I'll be done in a minute."
When Henry finally caught his breath, Starsky lit into him. "Okay, turkey, you better tell us what you're doing down here!"
Henry winced. "I'm playing D&D, stupid. And everything was just fine until you two started playing cops and robbers."
"Look, kid," Starsky said as he held the bandage in place while Hutch secured it, "we aren't playing and neither is that guy with the gun. If you'd cooperated with us earlier, maybe you wouldn't be in this mess now."
"Oh damn." Henry caught his breath. "Hey, I thought you were part of the game. This is a medieval dungeon, but Rodney's played dirty tricks on us before."
Hutch sat back. "I don't know who this Rodney character is or what you're doing down here--other than trespassing on government property--but I do know you need medical attention, and my partner and I can't find the way out of this maze of make-believe."
"Yeah. If you want our help, you better tell us what's going on."
"Your real name would be a good place to start," Hutch added.
Henry ran his hands over his sweaty face. "My name is Daniel Norquest. I'm a student at USC. This is a dungeon. We're playing Dungeons and Dragons."
Starsky reappraised the boy. "USC? How old are you?"
"Sixteen?" Starsky asked. "Isn't that a little young for college?"
"Not if you have my IQ."
"Okay, Mr. Genius, where's the yellow brick road out of here?"
"I don't know." Daniel closed his eyes. "My leg hurts."
Starsky stood and paced the floor. "I'll bet it does. But if you want our help, you're gonna have to tell us how to get you out."
"Honest, I don't know how to get out. That's part of the game."
Hutch checked the bandage. Blood was seeping through the white material. "You did a nifty disappearing act a little while ago."
Daniel grimaced as Hutch moved his leg. "I got lucky--hey man, that hurts--I found a secret passage."
Starsky leaned against the wall. "So find another one."
"Can't. Every time someone finds one, Rodney moves it."
"And who's this Rodney?"
"Rodney Masterson, Jr., the dungeon master."
"Rodney Masterson. Sounds familiar."
"It should." Daniel tried to push himself against the wall. "Oh shit!" He grabbed his leg and took several deep breaths. "Rodney's old man owns half of Long Beach. Oil money. And he doesn't care how much Rodney spends."
Hutch tightened the bandage, then stood. "Starsk, help me get Danny- boy here to his feet."
The boy whimpered. "You don't expect me to walk, do you?"
"Unless you'd rather crawl." Starsky reached down to grab one of the kid's arms.
Hutch took the other. "Let me tell you some facts of life, Captain Daniel Henry. There's a man running loose in this dungeon with a rifle and a warped brain. He's scared and unstable. The next shot he fires could be into your skull."
"Or your friend Rodney's. Hutch and I aren't fond of tellin' parents their kids are dead."
"Okay, kid, take it easy. Who else is down here?" Starsky wished he was fishing at Pine Lake. Rattlesnakes were preferable to this mess.
"I don't know who all is playing today, but I came in with Cassandra...I mean Thena...ah, Thena Krisman."
"Oh no, don't tell me--Senator Krisman's daughter?" Starsky's stomach turned a flip-flop.
"Terrific! Where is she now?"
"Don't know. When you guys started shooting up the place, I dropped back to see what was going on. Cassandra--I mean Thena--went on ahead."
Hutch positioned himself to shoulder part of Daniel's weight; Starsky took the other side and asked, "Is she Cassandra or Thena?"
"Cassandra is a high level cleric, one of Thena's characters--the one she was using today." Daniel swore as the three of them moved out of the room.
Light preceded them along the corridor. It was too eerie, like too many Grade 'Z' movies Starsky had seen. He wished this would turn out to be one of them. He felt a need for words, a contact with reality, so he asked, "How do the lights work?"
"A switch. As you move along the corridor, you trip it and it signals the computer. Nothing complicated."
"What about the clingfire in the banquet hall? The stuff nearly did me in."
"You've read Darkover?" Daniel was obviously surprised.
"Well, we cops have to have something to do in between writing traffic tickets." Starsky didn't conceal his sarcasm. "What about that acid, or whatever it was?"
"It's just vinegar. The seat covers are impregnated with sodium bicarb. It makes a big hiss, but it's harmless. Most everything here is, unless you get clumsy or fall wrong. One of the guys did crack an ankle one time. It's all fake, otherwise."
"What about the art work?" Hutch asked. "Those paintings were real, and very good."
"Fan art usually is."
They moved slowly down the corridor, the torches coming on ahead and dimming behind. "What's 'fan art'?"
Daniel sighed. "You may have read Darkover, but I don't think you're ready for fandom. And I'm not sure I could explain it to a mundane, anyway."
The trio stopped at an intersection. Hutch asked, "Which way?"
"I don't know," the boy said.
"What d'ya mean, you don't know?" Starsky snapped.
Daniel sighed like a child explaining an obviously simple subject to a brain-burned adult. "It's Rodney's dungeon. If I knew all about it, it wouldn't be any fun to play." He shrugged. "It's like the Winchester House--you know, always under construction. Rodney closes off rooms, opens others, adds new ones when he can."
"Hutch, can you hang onto our tourguide while I go check out these hallways?"
"Okay. Be careful."
Starsky took a short corridor, but found no outlet. The hallway remained dark, the one door unmovable. He worked his way back to the junction, waved to Hutch, took the next corridor. Starsky felt along the wall, hoping for a change in the construction, a stream of fresh air, anything that would lead outside. It, too, was a dead end.
The third corridor glowed with soft pink light, which exploded into fluorescent magenta, then faded. In the afterglow, a spider appeared in the center of an enormous web--a huge spider, larger than in any horror movie. Starsky blasted it without a second thought.
There was a gaping hole in the web. The spider had not moved. He told himself the thing was not real, could not be, but it did not help.
"That's my spider!" Daniel protested. "Please don't shoot my spider!"
Feeling foolish, Starsky replaced his gun and backed out of the corridor. The light faded completely. When he reached Hutch and Daniel, a question was written on the young man's face.
"No. I did not shoot your goddamn spider."
"Oh Jesus, I'm glad. It took me three weeks to mold her. She's modeled after a mygalomorph, genus Aviculariidae, species Aviculariidae, a bird-eating spider from Guyana. She has a body three and one half inches across and a leg span of seven inches. Her proportions and markings are correct to the millimeter."
Starsky ignored the lecture, just waiting for his heart to slow down again.
"You'll have to forgive my partner." Hutch tried not to smile. "He draws his gun on daddy longlegs when he finds them in his bathtub."
"Well, it just jumped outta nowhere," Starsky spoke up. "It'd scare anybody. Even you." Then he cocked his head and motioned the others to silence. "Listen." It was a faint cry. "Part of your game, Daniel?"
"I don't think so. There's a dragon--"
A girl screamed.
Daniel blanched. "Thena."
"Where?" Starsky whirled around, his hand on his gun.
Daniel listened. "It's really hard to judge down here, but I'd say it's coming from the dragon's lair."
"Oh, terrific," Hutch said. "No dungeon could be complete without one."
Starsky repositioned himself on Daniel's left side. "Okay, lead on, MacDuff."
This corridor twisted, was dimmer than the others, but still had enough light to move with confidence. The air was damp and unpleasant. "Oh damn."
"Now what?" Hutch's voice came from somewhere behind.
"I bumped my head. I think the ceiling's getting lower. Daniel? And don't you say you don't know, 'cause I don't wanna hear it."
"But I don't. Except that these walls aren't the usual plastic. Maybe the tunnel's collapsed. It happened once before."
"Christ. I can touch both walls now. You two wait here while I see if this goes anywhere."
Starsky inched forward, found an exit, then returned. "Daniel, can you crawl?"
"Hell, no. I can't even walk."
"Well, you better give it some thought, 'cause it's the only way we're gonna get through here. I saw more light up ahead."
"I don't believe this," Hutch complained. He helped Daniel onto the floor.
At one point Starsky had to slither on his belly. He tried to feel sorry for the kid and his wounded leg, but Daniel and his D&D pals had created this nightmare in the first place. That thought dissipated all his sympathy.
"Aha. The light at the end of the tunnel." He turned and pulled Daniel through. Perspiration was dripping down the kid's face.
"Help!" A girl's scream reverberated nearby. "Rodney, get me out of here."
"Thena," Daniel explained. "Look, officer, Thena's not the hysterical type. Something's wrong."
Starsky touched his gun, then Hutch's shoulder. "Okay, Daniel, we're gonna leave you here." He held up his hand as the boy started to interrupt. "You can't walk and we can't carry you. Just sit against that wall. And for godsakes, stay out of the way."
Starsky pointed to a doorway in the wall, from which the girl's shrieks were coming. "Ready?"
Hutch nodded as he took his place on Starsky's right. They eased through the opening and moved inside cautiously. This room was huge, like the banquet room. It looked to be miles long, though that might be another illusion. Dim light touched a pile of "gold" coins. There was not enough illumination to see anything else.
"Goddamn you, Rodney Masterson. Get me outta here!" A voice, echoing close, but no girl in sight.
The wall curved to the left, so they followed it until Starsky could see the lavish cage that held the girl suspended approximately ten feet above the floor. Straight blonde hair cascaded through the bars as she leaned forward.
For the space of three heartbeats no one moved, then Starsky inched forward along the wall, gun in hand. Ahead was a soft glow, just like the one he had seen before the spider had appeared.
The light grew bright, then exploded. Starsky jumped, even though he had expected something. In front of him loomed a huge fire-engine red dragon. It was headed in their direction, glaring at them and belching long tongues of yellow fire with the odor of rotten eggs.
A shot came from the opposite end of the long hall.
"Stop it, you idiot!" The girl's voice was shrill with panic. "It's a hologram."
Another shot. The blue flash was just another part of the crazy kaleidoscope of color and motion.
"Stop it! It's only a goddamn picture!" Her panic turned to anger. "Rodney, you lousy son of a bitch, get me out of this fuckin' cage."
Starsky's blood was pounding so hard he could barely hear Hutch's whisper. "Can you get a position on Grayson?"
"Somewhere on the other side of that...that...that dragon. Cover me." Starsky eased forward along the wall. The dragon seemed to follow his movements, flames leaping from its mouth. It was only a hologram, but the man with the rifle was real.
"Alfred. Alfred, it's Dave Starsky. Can we--"
"Don't come any closer, Gook, or I'll shoot the girl."
Hutch moved up to join Starsky. "I don't like the way he sounds."
"Me either. Pro'ly scared to death, and I can't say as I blame him."
"Let me try."
"Alfred, it's Hutch. You don't want to shoot that pretty girl."
"I'm not going back there!"
"Hutch, he's freaked out."
"Miss Krisman, I'm Sergeant Hutchinson, LAPD. Can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can hear you. Will you get that creep with the gun outta here?"
"I'm Sergeant Starsky, Ms. Krisman. Can you see the man with the gun?"
Grayson fired another shot. "Shuddup, you two, or I'm gonna kill her."
"Rodney! Rodney! Get me out of here!"
"Shut up, lady. And make this gook dragon thing go away!" Grayson was hysterical.
"How can I? In this fuckin' cage I can't do anything!"
"Let's follow the wall," Starsky whispered.
"Hey you--you gooks! I don't suppose you could get me outta here? Make a deal?"
"Are you injured, Ms. Krisman?" Hutch called.
"No, I'm not injured, I'm just hanging in this goddamn cage where that asshole can take potshots at me."
"Hutch? Hey--is that really you, Hutch?"
"Yeah, Alfred," Hutch answered. "It's me. The VC are all gone, Alfred."
"You gotta make this gook thing go away. Please, Hutch--make it go away."
"The dragon doesn't like guns, Alfred. If you'll give me your gun, it'll go away."
The dragon breathed a yellow tongue of fire, and the stench of hydrogen sulfide made Starsky's eyes water.
"Okay, Hutch. Okay. But please--don't let it get me."
"Alfred, I'm going to come and get you. I won't let the dragon hurt you."
"Hutch," Starsky grabbed the man's sleeve. "He's nuts and he doesn't know where he is and he's scared to death."
"Alfred. See--no gun. It's not a VC dragon, Alfred--it doesn't even like guns. It won't hurt you if you put the rifle down. Just put it down on the floor, Alfred."
Starsky held his breath while Hutch walked slowly toward Alfred, past the fake treasure, past the looming dragon. The damn thing sure looked real.
The dragon's head followed Hutch, then belched fire. It covered Hutch in an aura of yellow light. "Hutch!"
Alfred fired. "It's got Hutch," he shrieked, "it's gonna kill us all!"
Thena screamed. "Stop it, goddamn you, stop it!"
The dragon abruptly disappeared, but Alfred Grayson kept howling, clicking the trigger of the empty rifle.
A sudden hum was followed by white fluorescent light, and Sheriff Bills walked in, holding another young man by the arm. "Starsky? Hutchinson?"
Hutch moved quickly to Alfred, kicked the rifle away. Then he sat on the floor and cradled the sobbing man.
"Here, Sheriff," Starsky answered. "We need the paramedics. There's an injured kid outside that other door," he said, holstering his gun.
Bills directed his men, then marched his own prisoner over to Starsky. "This here is Rodney Masterson--"
"The genius behind this funhouse." To Bills' surprised expression, he added, "The injured kid, Daniel Norquest, told us."
"Will someone please get me down from here?" Thena shrieked. Then her fury died, swamped by relief. "Rodney, oh thank God--get me out of here."
Half an hour later, paramedics wheeled a sedated Grayson toward the exit.
"Poor Grayson, I don't think this little adventure did him much good," Hutch told Starsky. "Maybe we'd better go with him, take him back to the hospital."
"Yeah, okay." Starsky looked at Bills. "You know where to find us, and it won't be in this freak show."
Bills smiled wryly.
"So what'll happen to these kids--this place?" Hutch rocked on the balls of his feet, obviously anxious to be away.
Lighting a cigarette, Bills said, "Not sure. Mr. Masterson is on his way over here. Chances are he owns this place, and if not, he'll probably try to buy it." He blew out smoke with a heavy sigh. "I suppose if it were properly supervised, letting the kids use it wouldn't be a problem. Better than having them out on the streets, peddling whatever."
"I guess you're right," Hutch commented, looking around the dragon's lair, "but there ought to be a warning sign on the door."
"Yeah, like 'This place is Bad for Your Mental Health'," Starsky put in.
Another stretcher, this one bearing Norquest, met them at the door. Starsky looked down at the kid and grinned. "Well, Captain Daniel Henry, how's the leg?"
"Still hurts, but they--" he pointed to the paramedics-- "say I'll be all right. I'm sorry about all this and for being such a turkey. That nutcase could have killed us all."
"Yeah." Starsky glanced around at the kids' playhouse. "Maybe if Alfred hadn't been dodging bullets in Vietnam--maybe, maybe, maybe. You kids are damn lucky that you have a choice. All you have to fight are make believe dragons."
Henry's smile was thoughtful. "Can't complain. But even here," he added, "some days the dragon wins."
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