PIECE OF CAKE
Vanessa had made her choice. She took a last glance at her sleeping husband, unable to hide her admiration for his lean body, blond hair and fine features that now seemed so relaxed in his sleep. Why did it all go wrong? She wanted to understand. They had loved each other, had promised to stay together and now her suitcase was packed. Oh well, she knew what it was about.
When they met she was sure the tall blond guy she had fallen in love with would introduce her to the upper class. He had just started his medical studies, his father was a well known lawyer and she hoped to be accepted by the wealthy families of Duluth, Minnesota. One day her Ken would become a famous doctor and she could represent him in society...
Ken stirred in his sleep and Van was brought back to reality. Her smile faded and anger surged. It was all Starsky's fault! Okay, Ken had decided to stop with his medical studies -- to become a cop! They had had endless arguments about his decision, but she had never given up the hope that she could bring him to terms.
Why had this underdog from New York shown up, exerting such a bad influence over her Ken? Starsky! Alone the name couldn't mean anything good! He wanted to become a cop, come hell or high water. Somehow he had invaded Ken's private sphere, had even started to call him "Hutch". Ridiculous! She couldn't stand him, especially when he was laughing and joking with her husband. Had she been jealous when she realized the strong bond that had grown between the two men?
Anyway, when they had finished the academy and were sent to different stations, there had been hope for Van. Out of sight out of mind, that was her chance to convince Ken of quitting his dangerous job and forgetting that weird insane loudmouth from New York. Ken had to return where he belonged to -- as a doctor he would find his place in the right ambience.
Van sighed and retreated to the door. It had been all in vain. Quite to the contrary Ken had just requested to be partnered with Starsky. Van had lost her influence on her husband; she couldn't stand it any longer.
Quietly she left the room, took her suitcase and left the apartment. Later Ken would find the note wherein she told him about the divorce. Now she had to plan her future... The guy who worked alongside her wasn't too bad either. She had heard that he had inherited a great deal of money recently... Maybe he could offer her the life she was longing for.
David Michael Starsky was swaggering along the hall, whistling a little tune. Today it would be decided if he was partnered with Ken Hutchinson, his best friend. He was announced to Lieutenant Parker who had all the papers and documents that were necessary.
"Come in. Well, you are David Michael..." the man was rifling through the folders and seemed to be relieved when he finally found the right one.
"Here we go," He put on his glasses and said: "You are partnered with Sergeant Thomas Lowell, congratulations!"
"Pardon?" Starsky could only stare. Had he heard right? His request being partnered with Hutch was rejected? He sat down on a nearby chair and had to take a breath. The disappointment was so immense, he had to choke.
"If there aren't any questions left..." The man on the other side of the desk was looking at Starsky and motioned him to leave.
"Sir," Starsky cleared his throat, "I wanted to be partnered with a certain Kenneth Hutchinson, can you check it again, please?"
"Here it says," the man put on his glasses again, "that David Michael is partnered with Sergeant Thomas Lowell, as I said."
Starsky jumped up. "Sir, I am David Michael Starsky, S-T-A-R-S-K-Y."
Now the Lieutenant looked irritated. "Can you prove your identity?"
"Sure." After Starsky had shown his ID, it was only a matter of minutes to find out that indeed Starsky was partnered with the man he had come to appreciate as his best friend.
The swagger was back when he strolled along the hall. He had to tell Hutch the good news.
It was Hutch's free day and Starsky decided to drive over to his friend's place. If he was lucky Van had already left for work. He had never become familiar with Hutch's wife. She was a cold, unfeeling person, just the opposite to Hutch.
Hutch's car, an old Chevy, was standing in the parking lot and Starsky hurried up the stairs. Impatiently he waited for the door to be opened. When it took too long he let himself in with the spare key on the doorframe. Hutch was standing against the sink in the kitchen, probably preparing one of his health drinks. Starsky chuckled as an idea formed in his head.
"Buddy, I have to tell you something." He tried to sound serious "Our request for being partnered was refused..." Expectantly he waited for Hutch's reaction.
When Hutch turned around Starsky was affected by his friend's stricken appearance. He looked miserable, a sadness on his face that Starsky had only seen before when Hutch had fought with Vanessa.
"No partners then..." Hutch's voice was very quiet; it seemed that he had lost all self confidence.
"No, it was only a joke, but the Lieutenant really wanted to partner me with another guy. I can tell you that was a little shock at first."
Starsky was standing in front of his friend now. "What's wrong, buddy? Look, Van has already gone to work, no time for arguments, it's only you and me. Let's..."
"She's left. She wants a divorce." Hutch's voice sounded despondent.
"Can't believe it," Starsky mumbled though he couldn't feel very sorry. That bitch Van had caused so much trouble so far, it would be the best for Hutch if it came to an end. But Starsky couldn't tell that to his best friend. Obviously Hutch was suffering from her leaving.
"What can I do for you? Let's sit down and talk it over." And Starsky led his friend over to the couch. Hutch slumped onto it and covered his eyes, grown red with emotion and creeping fatigue. "You want something to drink? A tea?" Hutch nodded and Starsky went to the little kitchen to put the kettle on.
He was looking out of the window, saw the cars passing by, watched some children playing hide and seek. And the sun was shining. What a day! Could have been a wonderful one with the great news. Working as partners, it had been their goal, and now Hutch was abandoned by his wife and had to cope with it.
"Here we go," and Starsky put two mugs on the coffee table in front of them. He sat down next to Hutch and sipped from his tea. After a while of silence Hutch put down his hands, gripped the mug and drank the tea.
"Feeling a little better?" Starsky wanted to know and Hutch smiled tentatively.
"Thanks for being here," he said and continued, "You know, when I woke up, I saw her note. I couldn't believe it at first. Then I checked her closet and saw that her suitcase was missing. She's really left me, Starsky. Was it my fault that our marriage failed? Sure, we had arguments..." Hutch's voice trailed off.
"Yeah, arguments about your job!" Starsky underlined. "She never allowed you to have a career as a cop. Once she told me she was sure that you'd go back to Minnesota to become a doctor. She was gloating over the victory. She couldn't stand me, and honestly said, it was the same with me. It was as if she begrudged us our... friendship."
Hutch looked at his friend. "Maybe you're right. I remember one evening when I got home late after a stake out that she accused me of spending all my time with you. She didn't know anything about my job and wasn't interested in it. She ran you down and I was getting pissed. I told her nobody should mess with my friend. That enraged her even more and I think it was the first night I ended up sleeping on the couch.
Starsky couldn't avoid a little smile. He nudged his partner with his elbow and noticed that Hutch relaxed a bit.
"Well, maybe you should take it easy, pal. At least we're partners from now on. Imagine, Starsky and Hutch against all the evil in the world. Our appearance will make all the scum vanish into thin air. We'll be invincible and...!" Hutch couldn't hide his smile any longer. He put his hand over Starsky's mouth to hush him.
"You really know how to cheer someone up, you know that?" he said. Starsky stopped and locked glances with his friend. Hutch saw the affection for him in Starsky's face. Never before he had met a person that had cared for him the way Starsky did. Even now despite being abandoned by his wife, Hutch was already feeling better with his friend by his side. Hutch leaned back into the cushions and Starsky relaxed with him. Both men followed their own thoughts. It was a familiar silence. Starsky marvelled there were times like now when they didn't need any words to understand each other and to know what the other was thinking.
"You know..." both men started to talk at the same time, laughed and Hutch motioned Starsky to go on.
"What do you think about introducing ourselves to our new captain? I think his name is Dobey. Rumors say he's rough."
"Good idea," Hutch said. "But there's one thing that's bothering me. Vanessa said in her note that she's going to take some more of her belongings out of our apartment this evening. I really don't want to see her, so I'd like to ask..."
"...If you can stay with me for tonight? Only if you keep your health ingredients far away from me," Starsky joked.
"Whatever you want."
"Then come on," and Starsky pulled his friend up. Hutch disappeared in the bathroom to wash up while Starsky had a look at Hutch's closet to pack some clothes for his friend. Who knew how long Van's moving would take... Starsky was about to leave the room when he saw Hutch's guitar. He took it with him and later when Hutch joined him, Starsky saw his astonishment followed by a small grin. It was going to be better.
Two weeks later...
"Starsky and Hutchinson! Into my office!" Starsky still jerked when he heard the sudden hollering of their new captain. He jumped up, noticed that Hutch reacted more calmly and tried to slow down, too. They entered the office and kept standing near the door to wait for further instructions.
"Sit down!" ordered Dobey and pointed to the two chairs in front of his desk.
Two pairs of blue eyes looked expectantly at the superior.
"You've been partners for two weeks now and you did a good job as I was told. Now I need you for a special case. It'll be your first one and it's a little delicate because you'll be on your own for a certain time. Therefore I have chosen you. I've heard that you are friends, is that right?" Both men nodded, waiting impatiently for more information.
"What is this case about, captain?" Hutch wanted to know.
"There is a community outside town that lives after their own rules. They are independent from other communities, grow their own corn and sell it. They promise young people in trouble to help them and show them another way of life. "
"That doesn't sound so bad," Starsky had to admit, but Dobey shook his head and went on.
"In the last few months seven young people from this community, by the way it is called 'We Are Happy Forever' were found dead in different places. First we thought it was suicide, but meanwhile we suspect the leaders of the group have something to do with it. So far we can't prove anything. I'm quite sure that something mysterious is going on there."
Starsky and Hutch looked at each other. Before they could give any comments, Dobey finished: "We need two people to go undercover into this community. I think you could do an exceptional job. You trust each other and can watch each other's backs. You only have to observe what's going on there and if there are any problems that could cause suicides or something worse -- like murder."
Dobey looked at the young cops. Starsky was well experienced in fighting and defending himself -- the rough kid from New York. He had lost his father in a shooting when he was a boy. Since then he had wanted to become a cop -- like his father. On the other side was Ken Hutchinson, a well educated boy from a wealthy family in Duluth, Minnesota. Dobey had studied the personnel files of both men. He got the impression they complemented each other, and that could help them with the undercover job.
"Does that mean we have to live in this community?" Starsky's anticipation was fading already.
"Of course, and we have to give you a new identity. One where you've both been in trouble. I was thinking of you having stolen cars," Dobey pointed at Starsky, "and you, Hutchinson, could be the guy who was disappointed by life generally speaking. So you are looking for an alternative lifestyle."
Starsky exchanged quick glances with his partner. Could Dobey know already about the upcoming divorce with Van? It didn't make any difference to them. This was their first case!
"Okay, that's it for now. Get your stuff together and get out of here," Dobey said.
Both men stood up and thoughtfully left the office.
"Wow! Our first case -- going undercover! I never imagined that it could be this special," Starsky admitted. "Let's grab something to eat; I'm always starving when I'm excited."
"Okay," Hutch said distracted. When they were munching on their lunch in a small Mexican diner tucked down the street, Hutch grabbed a taste of Starsky's burrito before refocusing on their upcoming assignment.
"I'm not sure about it. We should contact Huggy. He has helped me several times with information from the streets. We have to know more about these people and their leaders, otherwise it could be dangerous for us, too." Hutch said.
"As Dobey said, we're on our own out there. We need to keep the contact to a person that we can trust. Could be Huggy." Suddenly Starsky had to chuckle. "Me and stealing cars, nobody would believe that one, huh?"
"I wouldn't say that," Hutch smiled thinking of his partner's enthusiasm concerning fast sports cars.
"And what about you? Fed up with the world and looking for another lifestyle?" Starsky had wanted to make a joke but when he looked into Hutch's eyes, he could still see a sadness there. Hutch was having a hard time after Vanessa had left him. The first night at Starsky's they had talked half of the night about the life Hutch had led with Van. Both sprawled on the couch, several cans of beer in front of them on the coffee table, Hutch's pizza only half eaten... it was a mess, and so was Hutch's life. When he talked about the good times he and Van had had, Hutch got emotional and a half drunken Starsky had put his arm around his friend's neck to comfort him. Later they fell asleep, woke up in the morning with their backs aching terribly, but nevertheless they had hope that life was going to be better.
"I'm not so happy with living there," said Starsky who was thinking about his date with Melissa, a stewardess he had met some weeks before.
"Me neither," said Hutch, but after a short break he went on: "On the other hand nothing is worse than coming into a half empty apartment now that Van has left and has taken her things with her."
"Be that as it may, if we are lucky it's only for a short time and with a little help of our friend Huggy we'll be successful," Starsky finished optimistically.
It was ten days later when an old Chevy with altered license plates made its way to the community "We Are Happy Forever" outside the town. Inside the car two young men were busy recapitulating their new identities.
"No, you are not Miller, that's me. You are Brown, Dave Brown," Hutch repeated worrying already about his friend's forgetfulness -- till he saw the mischievous smile on Starsky's face.
"Don't make me crazy!" and Hutch's index finger waggled in front of Starsky's nose.
"Okay, Ken," Starsky pronounced the name with emphasis. "At least we can keep our first names. Ken Miller, not so bad at all. And you said that a cousin of Huggy's has been to the community? How that?"
"Well, Huggy told me that his cousin is a freak for installing and repairing video cameras. I think that was the reason they hired him. Huggy only knew that this community seems to be quite insular. Nobody is leaving unless he has to complete an order." Hutch concentrated on the narrow road that led further into the woods.
"Leaving civilization," Starsky mumbled having the dim feeling that this case could be more complicated than they had expected. Seven young people had been found dead in different parts of the city? What had they done?
They had to investigate in this direction. And not to forget to check the leaders, a certain Robert Wise and his assistant Mary Phorbes.
"Here we go," Hutch said and pointed to the large building that could be seen in the distance. It was surrounded by fields. Starsky looked back where they had come from and noticed it was populated by dense forest.
"Okay, Blondie, hm, wanted to say Ken," Starsky said and patted Hutch's knee encouragingly. "Let's show them that we are the long arm of law. Don't forget to play your part and I'm sure I can tell them all about cars and how to..."
Hutch had stopped the car when he saw a man was approaching them. He wore a uniform of some sort, his face set with a stern expression.
"What are you doing here?" he asked looking them over sceptically.
"Oh, we have heard a lot of good things about your community and we'd like to talk to someone responsible." Hutch explained and the man's look lightened a little.
"You can park over there, and the office is on the right." He pointed to the wide entrance.
"Thanks, man," Hutch said and parked the car in the parking lot. Starsky unloaded their luggage. They carried it up the few stairs, exchanging glances. The investigation on their first case was now officially underway.
So far they hadn't seen anybody outside, except the man in uniform. Now when they entered the building they could see some more people who were obviously working, cleaning the floor or carrying folders from one room to another.
Hutch knocked on the door to his right and opened it. Starsky looked around in astonishment. The office was very large with valuable furniture; the big plush sofa with inscrolled arms and claw-footed legs. Hutch noticed the paintings on the wall, unattainable for people like him. The pictures were well-commissioned oils, framed in heavy gilt and brass.
"I suppose you want to get to know us, so welcome to 'We Are Happy Forever'. My name is Mary Phorbes." A middle aged woman rose from her chair and motioned the men to come nearer. Her inviting smile made them relax and Starsky let out a sigh of relief.
"Well," he started, and after a pause he continued, "my name is Dave Brown and this is my friend Ken Miller. I had some trouble the last time but I'd like to better myself, and they told me that I could get another chance to improve my life, staying with your community."
"You are so right, young man." Mary Phorbes' smile deepened. She turned to Hutch. "What about your problems? I'm sure we can help you, too."
Hutch felt himself blush. He cleared his throat and began: "I -- uh -- I don't feel so good, you know, lots of -- prob -- problems with my family," Hutch's stuttering matched with his confusion.
Mrs. Phorbes took a few steps toward the blond, gripped his arm lightly and said in a reassuring voice: "Don't worry; if you really want to change your life and you do what we tell you, then you're going to be a happy person forever."
She led the newcomers to the door and explained: "First you have to stay one night in our orientation centre. You will be informed what we live for in our community and what is important for you to know. Bob?" She called a young man. "This is Ken and Dave. Would you please show them their room?" With a friendly "See you!" she disappeared in her office.
"Hi Bob, nice to meet you," Starsky greeted the young man, who looked at them insecurely.
Hutch locked glances with Starsky, asking without saying a word: Do you think he could be useful, giving us some information we need?
Starsky shrugged his shoulders. Maybe when they had settled in.
"This is your room for tonight." Bob had opened a door and they were confronted with a small accommodation, filled with six beds, a table with two chairs and a small closet next to the window. Some of the beds were already occupied with personal things. Fortunately there remained two beds next to each other, and Starsky and Hutch put their bags on them.
"Where're all the others?" Hutch asked curiously. Beside him, Bob was looking down the hall.
"Over there in the next building. I'll show you." Starsky and Hutch followed him and tried to keep in mind where the showers, bathrooms and the dining room were.
"In half an hour there will be the meeting for new guests. This is the room you go in for more information." Bob turned his back on them and walked away.
"Strange boy, seems to be a little shy," Starsky smirked and nudged Hutch in his side. "Hey look, there are some rather pretty girls, too."
Actually they could see some young women sitting in another room, a few folders spread in front of them as they sorted through papers and notes.
"Let's go outside for a while," Hutch proposed and drew Starsky with him, who couldn't stop watching the women.
The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and on the fields in the distance they could see people working.
"They are quite busy, aren't they? And it all looks trimmed here. Nobody would think that someone could be so unhappy as to commit suicide," Starsky had to admit. And indeed, the people they met along their way looked really happy.
"I think it's time to go to our first meeting," Hutch said looking at his pocket watch.
"Hope we get our first meal soon. I'm starving!" Starsky complained, but followed Hutch to the meeting room. About ten people were assembled there, male and female, and Starsky and Hutch sat down next to a girl, who was about twenty years old.
"Hi," Hutch whispered in her direction and got a shy smile from her. Before she could say something, Mrs. Phorbes entered the room and stopped in front of the group. Her short brown hair matched the elegant suit she was wearing. It seemed that she was smiling at everybody in the room, and yet Hutch had the feeling her smile was for him alone.
"Welcome to this wonderful and happy place! I can see in your faces that you are longing for a better life, full of happiness and contentment. You will find it here. Our community 'We Are Happy Forever' will change you into a special human being. There is only one condition: If you want to improve your life you have to follow our instructions. That means ten hours work every day for our community. Maybe it sounds hard to you at this moment, but I can promise you that you will gain more strength by the time you've learned to appreciate your new life. With our special health food and drinks (Starsky's stomach made protesting noises and Hutch had to chuckle) you will feel like new born..."
Half an hour later they were dismissed and followed the others to the dining room where the lunch was served. "Hope it's nothing birds would prefer," Starsky mumbled and when steaming spaghetti with a delicious sauce was brought to the table, Starsky's mood lightened.
"Hey, first you have to drink your health shake," Hutch reminded him. "Remember what they told us before." And with obvious contentment Hutch emptied the glass.
Starsky did the same, with less enthusiasm.
In the afternoon they talked to some members of the community. They were all very friendly, constantly smiling, so that Starsky found himself already missing a little banter and some action.
Supper started again with the health shake and Starsky had to bring himself to put it away. Hutch on the other side was enjoying it. He had always been a health freak, so to speak with Starsky.
Finally their first day was over. Starsky and Hutch couldn't speak very openly because all the beds were occupied now. Some of the newcomers were still reading, others tried to get some sleep.
At 10 o'clock the lights went out, when Starsky was just about to get undressed. "Hey, what..." He rummaged in the darkness, stepped with bare feet on Hutch's shoes that were lying somewhere and cursed through clenched teeth. "Damn, Hutch, I mean, Ken, why can't you put your shoes under the bed! I think I've broken my little toe. By the way, where are my sweats?" Hutch who was already lying in bed, sat up again to help Starsky find his bag with the clothes. Finally Starsky had changed and with a sigh he let himself fall onto Hutch's bed.
"Wrong direction, buddy, yours is over there," Hutch smirked.
"Dummy!" was Starsky's short answer. "We've got to plan our actions for tomorrow. What do you think ought to be our next step?" He had lowered his voice to a whisper, so no one in the room could listen to them.
"Well, I think you should talk to Mrs. Phorbes," Starsky began. "We've got to know more about her job here. Try to find out why some people are leaving the community for some time..."
Hutch whispered back: "Okay, if I take care of the lady you've to find out about the leader Robert Wise. We haven't seen him so far, but there should be a way..." Starsky nodded. Then he got up, put his hand on Hutch's arm and whispered: "Night, sleep tight."