Pine Lake Starsky hadn't become fond of the place.

The last time they had spent a weekend in Dobey's cabin they had disturbed the actions of a satanist's group. Instead of going fishing and relaxing at the lake he and Hutch had ended up freeing a girl from the sect. Along the way they had been confronted with a rattle snake, a big bloodspot on their door and a mysterious roar when they finally settled down to some fishing. That had caused their abrupt departure and Starsky still felt relieved that they had escaped the uncertainties of nature.

"Starsk, I've just talked with Dobey. He's leaving the cabin to us next weekend and..."

"No chance!" Starsky said with determination and shook his head.

"I'll be busy doing some incredible things with Lisa," said Starsky waggling his eyebrows meaningfully.

"Sorry buddy, didn't I tell you that Lisa called? She's stuck in Toronto and won't come back until Tuesday. She says 'hi' and is looking forward to solving a special case whatever that means "

"What special case are you talking about?" Dobey emerged from his office and looked questioningly at his detectives.

"Hum nothing, cap. I just told Hutch that in the Coopers case the reports are written." Starsky said quickly. Hutch chuckled.

"Well, then take your stuff and get outta here. Hutchinson, here's the key to the cabin. See you next Monday, and Starsky, don't leave any food outside the cabin. Bears, you know "

Dobey's wide grin provoked Starsky to hurry out of the office followed by his friend.

With long strides Hutch was at his partner's side. "Buddy," he started but was shoved back against the wall by a furious Starsky.

"What kind of friend are ya?" Starsky hissed. He locked eyes with his partner.

"I told ya I hate the woods and camping and bugs and you arranged it already with Dobey!"

"I know, I know. I just wanted to relax with my best friend over the weekend and to stay in Dobey's cabin is the cheapest way. I even thought of taking monopoly."

Hutch bent his head; he almost touched Starsky's forehead.

"If you don't want to come with me I'll accept it. Sorry, buddy." Hutch ended and straightened.

Starsky's anger vanished. "C'mon, let's grab something to eat," he said and steered Hutch to the garage.

"It's really hard to decide," Starsky was thinking aloud on their way to the little Mexican diner. "If Lisa can't be with me this weekend there's still a lot for me to do: wax my car, call Ma, clean my closet."

"Yeah, and finish your model ship," Hutch continued. They looked at each other and had to smile.

"Okay, the slogan of the weekend is "Back to nature," Starsky announced and Hutch gave him an encouraging pat on the thigh.

"You'll love it this time, buddy. It isn't too hot so there won't be many bugs and I haven't heard anything about any strange cultists in that area. Since we stayed there no criminals have been seen there," Hutch joked.

While munching their lunch they talked about the preparations for their little trip.

Starsky stopped worrying. At least he had the chance to beat his friend at monopoly. He hadn't told Hutch that he had studied Terry's book in debts.

Early the next morning Hutch's old LTD gave a signal in front of Starsky's home. Still a little disarranged with curls half wet from the shower and boots not tied Starsky emerged down the stairs. He wore his red check jacket, faded blue jeans and carried a bag that looked quite heavy.

"Mornin'," Hutch smiled and took Starsky's bag to put in the trunk.

"Whoah! Are you planning to stay in the outdoors for the rest of your life?" Hutch asked.

"No, just wanted to be prepared," Starsky mumbled and slumped into the passenger seat.

It was going to be a nice day. The sky turned into a light blue; as they left the smog of the city. A radio station played country music and both men sang along to their favourite songs.

"Country roads ta-ake me home to the place I belo--ng " Starsky sang with enthusiasm, but interrupted himself suddenly.

"Hutch! Did you take your guitar? Shit! You forgot it, right?"

"Is the Pope catholic?" Hutch smiled back.

"Good boy!" Starsky was relieved. "Then we can make a big camp fire. Compose a new song, will ya? As a boy I always dreamed about sitting with friends round a fire telling ghost stories and singing songs. Instead we're strolling round the blocks, breaking open cars..." Starsky's voice trailed off.

He felt Hutch squeeze his shoulder and smiled at his friend.

"Okay, it isn't such a bad idea to go to Dobey's cabin," Starsky admitted.

They arrived at the cabin at lunch time. They unpacked the car, and this time Hutch didn't tease Starsky with any imaginary spiders. He went in first and checked if all was okay. Starsky followed his friend.

"Okay, what's for lunch?" Starsky rummaged in his bag and took two cans of spaghetti out of it.

"Very creative," Hutch smiled and Starsky added quickly: "It's only for now. I'm starving. But tomorrow I'll show you what kind of cook I am. You'll see "

Hutch looked questioningly at his friend.

"Since when are you interested in haut cuisine?"

"Whaa?" Starsky looked at him blankly, then went on.

"Okay, okay, you're the brains of the team but I promise you a meal a la Starsky."

Hutch only raised one eyebrow.

While Hutch heated the spaghetti on the little stove Starsky fetched two sixpacks from the trunk and opened two cans of beer.

"Cheers!" They clicked cans and enjoyed the plain meal in companiable silence.

Starsky leaned back and yawned. "What about a little nap? Too much fresh air I think."

Hutch showing not even a suggestion of fatigue, stood up to take their plates to the little sink.

"You know Starsk, if we want to make a campfire tonight we need to collect wood. Would be nice you joined me."

"Sure, partner." Starsky yawned again. Hutch stopped behind Starsky's chair and put a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"If you wanna rest, never mind. Hope you didn't overdo it " Hutch chuckled.

"What d'you mean by that?" Starsky leaned his head back and looked up at Hutch.

"Practising something incredible with What's-her-name"

Hutch ruffled his partner's hair and moved to the door.

"Ever the charming boy, aren't ya? But wait, Hutch. Gimme some time. I can unpack our things, put the food in the fridge and then I'll help you."

"Okay, there's a little path behind the cabin. I'm sure there's enough wood. You'll find me there. Sweet dreams!" Hutch said and hurried out of the door before Starsky could find a convenient thing to throw after him.

Starsky whistled a little tune while he unpacked their bags. Carefully he opened the fridge. He gave a sigh of relief when there was no rattlesnake in it. He put the fresh food inside. Then he concentrated on the contents left in his bag. The most important thing was indeed Terry's book. Last night Starsky had waded through the book again. It had been very late when he slept. Thinking of the short night Starsky had to yawn again.

There was another book, Huggy had lent him. "Delicious meals all over the world" was the title and Starsky intended to surprise Hutch with something real special.

"Surviving in the wilderness" Starsky put the book aside. Set books in this area. The last book weighed a lot: "Book of world records." That was just for fun and Starsky opened it to run over the pages when fatigue washed over him. He settled on the sofa, closed his eyes and within seconds he drifted off.

Starsky was woken up by a strange noise. It was a tapping or knocking. He sat up and looked at his watch. Damn! He had slept over an hour and had promised to help Hutch. And there was this sound. Now it had stopped. Starsky took his weapon and examined the cabin. Nothing. The sound started again. It seemed to come from outside. Carefully Starsky opened the door and stepped out. When he went round the corner to the backside of the cabin he saw the "culprit": A little woodpecker was working the wall of the cabin!

"Thanks for waking me up," Starsky chuckled, put the gun away and started to look for Hutch. He followed the path behind the cabin. Further and further he went into the woods but no Hutch was to be seen.

"Hutch?" he called and felt a little concerned. "Hutch?" His voice became louder. Spinney to his left and right. What if Hutch was hurt and lying somewhere?

Starsky shouted again: "Hutch, where're?" At that moment Starsky was grabbed from the left. He was pulled into the bushes and someone put their hand over Starsky's mouth. Starsky struggled frantically to free himself from the attacker.

"Sshhh," he heard and there was something familiar and soothing in the voice beside him. Strong arms held him and Starsky calmed down.

"Hutch, what the heck--" Starsky mumbled against Hutch's hand and Hutch whispered back: "Look over there. I've discovered a fox's den. It's a family with four little cubs. But you must be quiet. Otherwise they hide in the den."

Starsky couldn't see anything. He was so relieved that he had his partner in sound condition at his side. His heartbeat went back to normal.

"They're coming out! Look, they're chasing each other and stumbling over their own feet," Hutch said.

"Well, real klutzy, like some human beings," Starsky smiled and nudged Hutch in the side.

They watched the fox family for a while till they remembered to collect some more wood before it got dark.

When they arrived at the cabin dusk had set in.

"Do you remember last time when we saw the light on the other side of the lake?" Starsky still felt uncomfortable thinking of the satanists who had tried to sacrifice a girl.

"Yeah," Hutch said pensively. No wonder that Starsky would have preferred to stay at another place to relax.

"You feeling better this time?" Hutch asked piling up some wood for their fire.

"Can't complain so far," Starsky smiled and turned to go into the cabin. "If it's all right by you, I'll prepare the dinner and you take care of the fire, nature boy," Starsky said and Hutch wondered what kind of dinner that could be. They hadn't caught any fish so far to roast over the fire.

"Starsk, I'm hungry, we have a real big campfire, have you fallen asleep again?" Hutch shouted.

Starsky emerged from the cabin. In the darkness Hutch could only see two big bags of marshmallows Starsky was holding.

"Hey, what a big fire! As a kid--" Starsky's eyes glistened but Hutch interrupted his friend.

"I'm hungry, Starsk. What about dinner?" Suspiciously he looked at the bags.

"Never heard of roasted marshmallows?" Starsky said on his way back to the cabin. Hutch sighed.

Little later Starsky brought a tray with two oversized sandwiches to the fireplace.

"Be back with the beer in a moment," Starsky said and disappeared again.

Hutch looked at the sandwiches. Not too bad for the first evening. Tomorrow they could go fishing.

"Here we go." Starsky was back and Hutch was about to take a sandwich when Starsky held him back.

"Just a moment, buddy. Y'know, have to tell you, this is a special sandwich. I found the recipe in a book Hug gave me. Let's try it."

"It looks quite normal," Hutch said impatiently and grabbed it.

"It's with cheese and marmalade," Starsky added, now a little insecure.

"You want me to eat WHAT?" Hutch lost his temper. "I've worked hard in the woods while you're dreaming of 'What's-her-name' and now you want me--"

Starsky shoved the sandwich against Hutch's mouth. Too surprised by this action Hutch bit into the sandwich. Then there was a pause.

Starsky watched Hutch's face closely and was greatly relieved when he noticed an affirmative smile.

"Hm, never thought I'd like it," Hutch admitted.

"It's a recipe from Denmark," Starsky added. Both were eating with gusto. The beer was cold, the place round the fire warm enough and the moonshine was reflected on the lake.

With Hutch's assistance Starsky roasted some marshmallows over the fire. Contentedly munching his dessert, Starsky said: "Not too bad here. What about playing the guitar, Blondie?"

Hutch nodded and got up to fetch his guitar. Soon the sounds of the guitar and Hutch's soft voice filled the air. Arms bent around his knees Starsky listened to the songs. He stared into the flames.

Memories from his childhood came back. Happy days with his father, who had played with him and shown him so many things. Little Nicky had been jealous of his older brother who was allowed to stay outside and come home later. Starsky's childhood had ended abruptly with his father being shot. Starsky had found his dad and was still persecuted by the horrible pictures of his dad, lying on the pavement dying.

Starsky sighed and looked over at Hutch.

"Everything okay?" Hutch asked and stopped playing.

"Yeah, was thinking of my Dad," Starsky said. "You know, he was a wonderful man and I still feel sad that he's gone."

Hutch said thoughtfully: "You were lucky you had a good relationship with your dad. My dad is still alive, but he doesn't care a lot, is always in a hurry and when I was a child, there were days I didn't see him at all. My parents even didn't have time to come to my graduation, you remember?"

Starsky remembered well. There was no one from the Hutchinson family, but Starsky's mother had come from New York to give her best wishes to her son. Starsky smiled when he remembered how heartfelt Rachel's congratulations of Hutch had been. Since then Hutch belonged somehow to the Starsky clan. He was family.

"Your mother came from New York and she treated me like a member of your family," Hutch smiled and Starsky added: "Yeah, cope with it."

"By the way, the last song you played was beautiful. Can you play it again? Would love to play the guitar like you," Starsky sighed.

"Wanna learn this song? It's called 'Rock my soul'. It's easy. C'mon, I'll show you."

Starsky scooted over to Hutch. After a while Starsky was able to play the chords and they sang the song again.

"Well," Starsky leaned back, the guitar still in hand. "I like it here. What's still missing is a good creepy story, told at a campfire. As a kid I always--"

"I know, I know, buddy," Hutch chuckled, paused a while and continued: "Okay, I heard about things that happened at this place a long time ago You wanna hear it? But it's a kinda ghost story, so if it's too creepy for you, I needn't--"

"Hutch, are ya kidding? Look at the peaceful lake, the moonlight is glistening over the water; there's nothing that could frighten me this night. C'mon, shoot!"

Hutch put some more wood onto the fire and began.

"A long time ago there was a little house where now Dobey's cabin is. An old woman lived here with her son. They were happy and the son enjoyed rowing out onto the lake to go fishing. One day the son didn't return from the lake. They started a search, but it was all in vain. The rowing boat was found later without the son, but everyone knew, he was dead. His mother couldn't believe it. Every evening she would stand on the shore and call for her son. Then there was a man who wanted to buy the old woman's house. She didn't want to sell it but as she didn't have enough money to keep it, the man -- his name was Mr, Cooper -- was able to buy the house for very little. The old woman had to leave. When she was standing in front of the house she turned round, raised her arms and cried: 'I'll tell my son all about you. He will return from the lake and you will be damned!' Mr. Cooper laughed and closed the door."

Hutch paused and took a sip from his beer. Starsky was hanging on Hutch's every word.

"What happened then?"

"Hope you can bear it," Hutch said.

"One evening, Mr, Cooper and his wife were sitting in the living room, they heard the dogs barking in the next village. Mrs. Cooper was looking out of the window. Suddenly it became pitch black, the full moon was hidden behind clouds and no stars could be seen. The barking of the dogs continued. Suddenly someone knocked on the door. Mrs. Cooper told her husband not to open the door but Mr. Cooper wasn't afraid.

He went to the door, opened it--"

Starsky had scooted even nearer to Hutch, his left hand had curled around Hutch's forearm.

"--and there was a figure in a black coat the ghost of the old woman's son. It came nearer and nearer and howled:

"I want my house back!"

Mrs. Cooper came out of the living room to help her husband. When she saw the black figure she screamed out and fell on the ground, eyes wide open."

"Was she dead?" Starsky whispered.

"People said so."

"And Mr, Cooper?"

"They say he ran into the lake and drowned," Hutch finished.

"Wow!" Starsky steadied his breath. "That was all?"

"By no means all!" Hutch said. "In the time that followed other people bought the house but when the dogs started to bark and the moon hid behind dark clouds and there were no stars, then the ghost appeared and took revenge. More people died and at last they tore down the old house. We are exactly on the ground where the old woman lived with her son..."

Hutch's voice trailed off. Suddenly they heard some dogs barking. Hutch looked up at the sky. The moon was hidden behind dark clouds, there were no stars and it had become pitch black. Hutch shuddered and Starsky clung to him, a fearful expression on his face

The barking of the dogs continued.

"Hutch, d'you think the ghost of the old woman's son is coming back?" Starsky followed Hutch's gaze over the lake. It was very dark. Was there a movement near the tree whose branches almost touched the water surface? Both men craned their necks for a better view. Hutch shook his head. "Buddy, can't be anybody. It's only a story, you know."

Starsky loosened his grip on Hutch's arm when something on their left caught his attention.

"Oh no, Hutch, over there!" Starsky choked on his words. A figure had emerged from the woods. It was dressed in black and was approaching them slowly. Hutch felt a shiver run down his spine. Starsky got up and grasped Hutch's hands to pull him up.

"Let's run, hurry!" Hutch still felt paralysed. He couldn't believe what was going on in front of him. It was impossible that it was a ghost, but Hutch slowly rose and let Starsky tug him away from the fire.

"Hey, where ya going?" The voice sounded quite human and Starsky and Hutch turned to face the man now approaching.

"Didn't want to intrude, gentlemen. I'm Ranger Nelson. I was patrolling round the lake and saw your campfire. Wotan, Phoenix, come here!" The barking stopped and soon two huge black dogs were running towards the little group, nosing the strangers.

"Then it's all okay here or is there a reason for your round?" Hutch asked and Starsky added:

"Some people are telling mysterious stories about the lake and this place, but that's all crap, isn't it?"

"As you bringing it up, there are rumors that say the lake is haunted since one of the Fowlers' boys is missing," said the ranger pensively petting his dogs who were looking expectantly at him.

"A boy is missing?" Hutch asked. "What's that about?"

"Yeah, little Benny was playing hide and seek with his older brothers. They were hiding and waiting for him to look for them but Benny didn't show up. After a while they started looking for him but the eight year old had disappeared. It's still hard for the family. A big search started. It was all in vain. Strangely enough people don't dare go near the lake let alone for a swim, though Benny disappeared on the other side of our village. People are affected so easily by these rumors about the haunted lake," the ranger said and with a look at the fire, he added:

"Please make sure the fire stays contained, gentlemen."

"No problem sir," Starsky said and they watched the ranger disappear in the darkness followed by his dogs. Soon the barking was heard again.

"What a night, huh?" Hutch smiled and Starsky smiled back.

"Just a second." Starsky went into the cabin and came out again.

"Let's put the fire out and go to sleep." With these words Starsky showed Hutch the fire drencher he had brought with them.

"Woah buddy," Hutch laughed and told his astonished friend that the campfire only needed a little sand to put it out.

Some time later they had settled for the night. Starsky insisted on sleeping on the couch so Hutch could take the bed in the alcove because of his back. Starsky covered himself with the blanket and tried to sleep. He closed his eyes but the images of the ghost story were so vivid that he couldn't relax. He opened his eyes and watched the door. Had the doorknob just moved? And the shadow outside the window was it possible that someone was standing there peering into the cabin?

Starsky turned round so that he was facing the backrest of the couch. This position wasn't better either. He got the impression somebody was watching him from behind.

With a suppressed sigh Starsky turned round again and rummaged in his bag for the torch. Then he took the book about the records to distract himself. He ran over the pages and read: "Ghost story-marathon. Here are the best examples." Starsky shut the book quickly.

Sleep wasn't coming. Starsky's thoughts went to the little boy who was missing. What had happened to him? He should talk with Hutch about it. Was his friend already sleeping? Starsky sat up to look at the alcove. Relieved he noticed that Hutch was soundly asleep. Maybe he would feel better facing his partner while sleeping, Starsky thought. Carefully he got up from the couch and started to move the heavy furniture. It scraped along the wooden floor and Starsky had to apply a certain pressure to turn it.

"Hands up!" Hutch sat up in his bed without a weapon but trying to drive someone back.

"Hold your horses, pal, it's only me," Starsky calmed his partner and looked contentedly at the couch.

"You're killing me here." Hutch rubbed his hands over his face and yawned. Then he looked questioningly at his friend.

"Ever heard of earth rays? Got the feeling I was sleeping exactly over one. This way it's better. Go to sleep , partner," Starsky mumbled.

Then he snuggled into his blanket and feeling safe he fell asleep.

Something tickled Starsky's nose. He opened his eyes and saw Hutch smiling in front of him.

"Wake up, it's going to be a wonderful day warm and sunny. Look, what I've found. Must be the feather of a large bird, maybe a peacock." Hutch put the feather on the table.

"We can bring it Rosie as a little souvenir from our trip," said Hutch and disappeared into the little bathroom. Starsky heard the shower and imagined Hutch had been out jogging already. Lazily Starsky got up. He opened the door and stepped out. A gentle breeze let the branches of the trees move; the lake was calm Starsky stretched and enjoyed the morning sun. It would be a fantastic morning to go fishing.

"Hutch?" Starsky stepped into the bathroom to start his morning routine while Hutch toweled himself dry.

"You're right, the weather is fantastic. Let's go fishing." Starsky said while brushing his teeth.

"What itching?" Hutch asked back. Starsky rinsed his mouth and repeated the last sentence.

"Okay, why not. Can you hand over my shaving kit?" Starsky did so. Then he stripped and went under the shower.

"Ewww!" he cried when the luke warm water hit his body. "Damn Hutch, what did you do with the water?"

"Didn't I tell you that Dobey told me there's only a little hot water?" Hutch chuckled and added:

"Well, you could have shared the shower with me, buddy."

"Yeah, if you were a beautiful blonde like 'What's her name'," countered Starsky.

"I am beautiful, blond," Hutch mused when a cold jet of water from the shower hit his back. "Are you nuts?" Hutch yelled.

"You see how cold the water is? And nothing healthy for breakfast!" Starsky called after the escaping Hutch.

Starsky finished his shower quickly. As he shaved, he couldn't stop the smile from making the task a little harder. A sunny day, no work and the early morning banter of Hutch. Really didn't get much better than that.

"Your health drink is ready!" he heard Hutch call.

"Don't you dare." Starsky emerged from the bathroom, zipping up his cut-off jeans.

"Hum, guess that's bacon and eggs. Not too bad, Blondie," Starsky said. He realized that the couch stood at its old spot again.

"Hope you don't mind," Hutch said softly and Starsky blushed a bit.

"Not at all. You know the earth rays--" Starsky stopped and dug into his breakfast.

Half an hour later they were on their way to the little shed where the rowing boat was. Starsky held all their fishing equipment while Hutch tried to unlock the door. "Damn!" Hutch cursed. It was impossible to unlock the door.

"Let me try," Starsky said, kicked with one foot against the door and it flew open.

"Wow!" Hutch was impressed. He examined the lock and whistled.

"Somebody was here before us. The door was broken open."

"Something's missing?" Starsky asked.

"Don't think so. Look, the rowing boat is here. Let's go!"

Both men pushed the boat into the lake. Hutch stepped into the boat first. Starsky gave Hutch the equipment and was about to enter the boat too when Hutch made an unexpected movement. Starsky lost his balance and gave a little yelp as he gripped nothing but air.

Last-minute Hutch steadied his friend and Starsky breathed deeply. "That was close!"

"Hope you didn't unlearn to swim," Hutch chuckled and started rowing.

It was getting warmer and Starsky took off his shirt. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

"There are worse things than enjoying nature on such a beautiful day," Starsky mumbled and watched Hutch's effort to get fish for their lunch.

At that moment Hutch's fishing rod got taut. Something heavy was pulling. Hutch leaned back and held tight. Starsky sat up and watched, full of fascination as Hutch struggled with an obviously big fish.

Suddenly the rod went limp, Hutch lost his balance and fell backwards.

In an instant Starsky rushed over to grab at Hutch but it was too late. Water hit Starsky as Hutch hit the water.

"Hey, wanna give me a swimming lesson here, pal? Hope you didn't unlearn swimming," Starsky smiled.

"Shit!" Hutch spat out some water. He realized that it was difficult to swim with clothes. Gratefully he took Starsky's offered hands and was hauled back into the boat. Both were breathing heavily. Then Hutch sneezed. "Gesundheit!" Starsky said and added:

"We should row back or you'll catch a cold."

"Not before I have a share in our lunch, buddy," Hutch said stubbornly. He took the rod again waiting for some fish to bite. He sneezed again and Starsky said: "At least get rid of your wet shirt and shorts. Gimme the rod." Hutch shrugged and started taking off his soaked shirt.

Starsky looked over the lake when suddenly his attention was caught by something sparkling in the woods on the other side of the lake.

"Hutch? Wait a minute. I think somebody's watching us.

I saw a flash, maybe sun off a field glass. It's over there. But don't look. Act as if we didn't notice."

"Strange," Hutch mused.

The rod in Starsky's hand became taut. "Woah, buddy, I think that's our lunch for today."

Starsky pulled and a midsized fish appeared at the end of the line.

"Seems to be your day," Hutch smiled, sneezed again and Starsky nodded. "Let's get back so you can change into dry clothes."

They rowed back and Starsky observed the other side of the lake once more. The sparkling didn't appear again.

While Hutch got into dry clothes and sipped from a mug of tea Starsky prepared their lunch. Several times he looked at the recipe in Huggy's book mumbling the recipe's directions.

"Lunch is ready!" Starsky announced and brought two plates with a steaming meal to the coffee table.

"Anything with marmalade again, pal?" Hutch smiled and sat down.

"Not at all! This is jambalaya." Starsky accentuated the word and explained: "It's a Creole rice dish. Today your master chef is serving it with fish you can also eat it with chicken by the way."

"Hm, tastes really good. From now on you'll cook."

"Keep quiet and eat!" And they enjoyed their meal.

Later they were sprawled on the couch relaxing. Hutch was engrossed in a book about fishing, while Starsky couldn't believe what it said in the survival book.

"Hutch, have you ever heard about a certain Rudiger Nehberg? He lived in the wilderness without any help and he ate what he found in nature! Even grasshoppers, huge ants, worms unbelievable! Hey, do you think the missing boy could be still alive? Maybe if he ate beers and plants..."

"Dunno," Hutch answered. "Who do you think was watching us on the lake? I wonder if it was the ranger."

"Or the missing boy," Starsky mused.

"We can do a hike this afternoon to that side of the lake," Hutch said, got up and came back with a pair of thick socks.

When Hutch sat down again Starsky leaned over and lifted Hutch's legs so his feet were on Starsky's lap. He rubbed them a little, and after a while they felt warmer.

"It's better now, right?" Starsky smiled proudly and Hutch said: "If Dobey could see us like this."

"Or Simonetti or Dryden," Starsky chuckled.

They both knew that a lot of people at the precinct were whispering about the special bond they had. It didn't matter to them. It was a natural thing for them to act the way they did.

Starsky knew that he never had this connection with Nick, his own brother. Starsky still felt responsible for Nick who he had left behind when he was sent to California. Maybe--

"Thanks for the massage buddy. I'm ready for our hiking trip. What about you?" Hutch nudged Starsky with one foot, then got up to fetch his jacket.

"Okay, and let's have a look at that place where we were observed from. I remember it vaguely."

They both changed into warmer jeans, put on their boots and Hutch carried a backpack stuffed with things to eat and drink.

When they left the wind had freshened; just the right temperature to go hiking. They went through the woods but had the lake still in sight. Several times Starsky looked back to see how far they had made it from the cabin.

In front of them the woods thinned out. "This is a nice place for a picnic," Hutch said and Starsky nodded approvingly. Hutch took a blanket out of his bag and unfolded it.

Starsky was starving again. He dug into the sandwiches, tried one more candy bar while Hutch drank a beer.

"It must be somewhere here," Starsky mused aloud. He pointed to the distant shore where the shed could be seen. "And somewhere behind the shed is Dobey's cabin."

"Let me check something out. Be back soon." Starsky got up and went to the left. He disappeared in the bushes. Hutch enjoyed the sight but then he had the strange feeling that there was somebody else near him. Was there a movement behind him or was it Starsky who was checking out the surroundings?

Suddenly there was the sound of footsteps and Starsky's voice shouting: "Wait!" And after a pause, "Damn!"

Hutch got up and looked expectantly behind him.

Starsky emerged from the right, breathless.

"Hutch! I've found the place, then someone ran away. Could be a child. Then I stumbled over a stump and that's it. Come over here, I'll show you."

Hutch followed him and then he saw the place. Several chewing gum papers and wrappers of candy bars were lying on the ground.

"Wow. Obviously it wasn't the ranger. You said it could be a child that was running away from you?" Hutch asked thoughtfully. "But look at the number of wrappers. Seems that there was more than one person. Maybe some teenagers having a picnic. But why were they running away?"

"Or do you think they are little Benny's brothers still looking for their brother? Doesn't explain why they were running away from me, either though," Starsky said.

"And they were watching us this morning, I'm quite sure," Hutch said and went back to their spot to pack their things. When he picked up the blanket he saw what was under it. He cursed: "What the fuck is this?" Starsky looked curiously over and laughed.

"I can tell you buddy. I've just read about it in my survival book. This must be one big ant-hill."

"Why didn't I see it before? The great thing is that they haven't climbed on me yet," Hutch checked on his butt. He looked worried. "Starsk, can you have a look?"

Starsky saw the mess at once. Numerous big ants had made their way up Hutch's thigh and were crawling everywhere. And he hadn't noticed it yet.

"Stay quiet, buddy. Let's get rid of them, though we could save some to roast them over the fire. I just read--"

"Stop it, please, just do something," Hutch urged and Starsky tried to brush them off.

"Hope none of them were feeling too comfortable there," Starsky joked but Hutch couldn't laugh about it.

"Let's get home," and Hutch turned to leave, walking a little awkwardly.

When they arrived at the cabin it was getting dark. Starsky put the kettle on to make some tea while Hutch stayed in the bathroom changing his clothes for the second time that day. Starsky heard slapping noises. Obviously Hutch had found some not wanted guests on his body.

Finally he emerged; he still had a disgusted expression on his face.

"You won't believe it, Starsk, these beasts are really aggressive. They're bitchy." And Hutch touched some sore spots on his behind.

"I know what's gonna help playing Monopoly, buddy," Starsky said.

"How's that?" Hutch asked dumbfounded.

"This time I'll beat you and you'll forget any other pain," Starsky was sure of it.

"By the way, what has master cook Starsky planned for dinner?" Hutch asked.

"Sorry, I forgot. Wait, there must be still two cans of spaghetti. And there was a special recipe for a sauce from Turkey I remember. I could try--"

"It's okay, pal," Hutch smiled.

A little later they ate and talked about what had happened since their arrival.

"I'm sure this evening will be a quiet one for me!" Starsky promised.

"Don't cry too loudly when I've beaten you for the first time in years."

"I'm dying to see you win," Hutch smiled. Together they washed the dishes and cleaned the little kitchen.

Starsky put the game on the floor. Hutch brought some candles and when they started to play there was suddenly an awkward silence. Starsky sighed and locked glances with Hutch. Both men remembered the night when they had opened Terry's gift. No words were necessary to explain what was on their minds.

And Terry's gift to Starsky was a precious one and he would be able to beat Hutch at Monopoly.

Starsky threw the dice and landed on Tower Street. "I'll buy it," he exclaimed and Hutch who took care of the bank, wondered.

"Wow, buddy, you never did that before. Don't wanna save your money?"

Starsky only smiled. If Hutch knew

One hour later Hutch got annoyed with Starsky's strategy. Hutch had to borrow some money from the bank to pay Starsky who had bought each street he had been on. He had never played this way before.

It was Hutch's turn again and he was about to roll the dice when a strange sound came from outside the cabin. It was a howling that curdled their blood.

"Not again," Starsky whispered. Hutch got up and peered through the little window.

"Can't believe it," he mumbled and motioned Starsky to join him. Slowly Starsky stepped near his friend, half hidden behind Hutch's broad back.

On the shore of the lake a huge black figure was swinging back and forth.

"Now I've got to know what's going on here," Hutch said with determination and opened the door.

"Stay inside," Starsky begged, but Hutch had made his decision. What was swinging over there making that strange noise couldn't be anything supernatural.

Hutch went out of the door and fell lengthwise down the steps of the cabin.

"Hutch!" Starsky cried stepped out and almost fell too. Now he saw it -- a thin wire had been tied on both sides of the door to make somebody fall.

Hutch groaned still lying on the ground. Starsky couldn't bear to see his friend hurt.

He crawled next to Hutch and lifted his head carefully.

"Are ya hurt, babe?" Starsky asked softly but Hutch only groaned again.

"C'mon, let's get you up," Starsky said and very slowly he turned Hutch to one side to see the damage. Hutch's face was bruised and blood was oozing from his temple. Starsky couldn't see well in the darkness. He put his arms around Hutch and helped him to sit up.

"Look for the culprits," Hutch managed to whisper and leaned against the wall.

Starsky looked over to where the black figure had been. The howling had stopped and the black apparition was about to leave in the woods.

At that moment Starsky was beside himself with rage. Never mess with someone's partner, he thought. He patted Hutch's stomach lightly and said, "Back in a minute."

Then he rushed forward toward the trees. He didn't feel frightened any more, he only wanted to get the one who was responsible for what had happened to Hutch.

The black figure noticed that it was being tracked by a fast runner. Suddenly it stumbled, fell and Starsky lunged. Astonished he realized that he had two bodies beneath him. He lifted the large cloth and looked into the eyes of two boys, no older than 15 years old.

One of them still held the broom covered with black cloth that let them appear much taller.

"What's this fuzz about?" Starsky hissed and with a glance to the cabin he snapped up: "D'you know what you did to my friend? He's hurt and it's your fault! Get up!"

He shoved the boys in direction of the cabin, mumbling: "Don't dare make the wrong move!"

The boys stood on the sidelines watching Starsky as he crouched beside Hutch.

"I got them," Starsky said in a soothing voice. "Let's get you inside."

Carefully he helped his friend up, put an arm around Hutch's waist and led him into the cabin.

"C'mon, lie down, I'll clean you up." Starsky looked at Hutch's dirty sweatpants and smiled.

"Gotta change again, buddy?" but Hutch only mumbled. "No, I don't care. Oh, my head."

Then Hutch tried to raise his head. "Did you get him?" he asked and Starsky eased him down on his bed again.

"Yeah, I got them!" Starsky looked at the boys at the door and motioned them to come in.

"Now you tell us who you are and what you had in mind!" Starsky left for the bathroom to get some supplies. When he came back the boys were looking at each other, some kind of silent communication going on.

Like Hutch and me, thought Starsky and sat down on the edge of Hutch's bed.

"We're listening. Shoot!" He said, a little impatient.

He took care of Hutch's head, cleaned the wound carefully and put a band aid on it. Hutch looked at him his mouth forming the word "Benny".

Starsky understood. He let his hand linger a moment on Hutch's cheek.

He looked at the boys and asked: "You're Benny's brothers, aren't ya? You're still looking for your brother. What happened to him?"

"Dunno. Suddenly he disappeared," the older one said. His younger brother added: "We don't know where he is."

"And why are you playing ghost and letting innocent people stumble over a wire?" Starsky lost his temper again.

Hutch's hand grasped Starsky's sleeve trying to calm him. "Slow down," Hutch whispered.

Starsky took a deep breath. "Tell us. Wanna know what's up here. Why did you hurt my friend? Why were you watching us on the lake?"

The older boy said: "We don't want to get people near the lake."

"Because it's haunted!" the younger one whispered.

"Bullshit!" Starsky said. Hutch laid his hand on Starsky's arm. Starsky saw that both hands were bruised too. He left to fetch some warm water.

"I'm sorry, we didn't want to hurt you, it was only because--" the younger boy said.

"Stop it!" the older hissed. "We promised it!"

Hutch rested on his elbow. Despite his throbbing head he noticed that something was terribly wrong with these boys.

"Hey," Hutch tried a little smile. "You are hurting too, right? What happened to your little brother? Did you see him again?"

"No!" The younger boy began to sob. "Suddenly he disappeared."

"Shut up!" his brother tried to interfere but the boy was crying openly now.

Starsky entered the room, rooted to the spot. Then he sat down on the bed again, took Hutch's hands to clean them with warm water. Quietly he looked at the boys.

Hutch said softly. "You are strolling around the lake because you think your brother could be here somewhere?"

Suddenly Starsky was hit by a strange idea.

"Boys, you can tell us the truth. You broke the door to the shed with the rowing boat, I guess. What did you do there?"

The older brother gave a sigh. It seemed that he couldn't bear it any longer.

He put his arm around his sobbing brother and said.

"We just wanted to have some fun with Benny. He always wanted to be with us. Sometimes it was annoying. That day we played hide and seek. Benny wanted to join us again. We got bored and wanted to play something different. Being pirates on the high seas. So we needed a boat. We broke open the shed and were lucky," the boy choked on the word, "and were lucky to find the rowing boat inside. We rowed onto the lake. Benny had a lot of fun; he wanted us to make some waves. So we did..." his voice trailed off.

Starsky and Hutch sat open mouthed. Starsky still held Hutch's hand in his, the wash cloth in the other hand. He had totally forgotten about the cleaning.

"And then?" Hutch's soft voice made the older boy cry too.

"The boat began to bounce and suddenly Benny lost his balance and fell into the water."

"He went under, we couldn't see him, we wanted to get him but he was gone," the younger brother whispered.

"We called for him, crossed the lake but he didn't turn up." Desperately the brothers looked at each other.

"And so you decided to keep it a secret," Hutch ended. He locked glances with Starsky. Hutch raised an eyebrow, Starsky nodded.

"Go home now. Let's see what we can do tomorrow," Starsky said.

"We are so sorry that you got hurt," the younger boy said again and his older brother nodded, looking at Hutch.

"Oh, he's a hard-headed guy, believe me," Starsky smiled and watched the boys leave the cabin. They heard a thump and then a voice: "Oops, forgot the wire." Then it was quiet.

"Can't believe it, buddy," Hutch said, holding his head.

"A terrible way to lose your brother," Starsky said and went on. "Now I understand why they wanted to run people away from the lake. They wanted to protect their brother in their own way."

"On the other hand this terrible secret would have destroyed them sooner or later. It seems to me that they were relieved in a way when they could tell us the truth," Hutch said. He looked at his hands and sighed: "No playing the guitar, buddy. And I think I need an aspirin or a new head."

"You still hurting?" Starsky said and stood up to get a glass of water with the medication.

"Wanna change your clothes once more?" Starsky looked at the soiled sweatpants.

"Can only think of the wet shorts or the jeans, home of some huge ants," replied Hutch.

"Then go to sleep in your underwear." Starsky helped Hutch to strip and put the covers over him.

"Hope you don't have a concussion, but to be on the safe side I'll wake you after every hour, okay?"

"Starsk, you need your sleep too," Hutch mumbled. He closed his eyes and was already half asleep. Starsky smiled and went to take away the water and the other supplies. Before he settled on the couch he checked again on Hutch. Hopefully there hadn't been a severe injury and they could get home safely. Starsky put his hand over Hutch's and squeezed it lightly. In his sleep Hutch squeezed back and Starsky felt a lump in his throat, grateful to have a friend like Hutch.

His gaze fell on the Monopoly game. Had been an eternity ago when they started the game. And he had been about to win. With these thoughts Starsky fell asleep too.

"C'mon, pal, I'll help you into the car." Starsky put the last bag in the trunk, went around the car to assist Hutch who still felt a little wobbly. Starsky started the car and they looked back at the cabin and the lake. It was so peaceful; the sun was shining through the trees nature at its best.

Starsky took a deep breath. Ahead of them lay the difficult task of informing the police and the parents of the boys what had happened to Benny. After a while Starsky looked over to Hutch who had leaned back against the headrest.

"Just thinking," Starsky cleared his voice. "What d'you think, should I call Nick when we're back home? Maybe I could make up for the time when I couldn't be there for him. Just show him that he is still in my mind..."

"Do that buddy. And if you need me to give him a kick in the ass, I'll be there," Hutch smiled and patted Starsky's knee.

"What would I do without you?" said Starsky and smiled.



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