For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
To Hutch's surprise, Starsky was released to his partner's care as soon as the flogging was completed. His hands were unbound, his shirt was replaced, and Hutch was allowed to help him carefully back to the bunkhouse. Starsky hissed in pain with each step as the rough fabric of his shirt shifted over the whip cuts, but he said nothing until they were inside the deserted sleeping quarters.
"Damn, that hurt," he whispered, sitting down on Hutch's lower bunk. Climbing up to his own upper bunk had been out of the question. Hutch winced when he saw that blood was already beginning to seep through Starsky's shirt.
"Let's get that off of you before it starts to stick." Carefully, Hutch helped his partner remove the shirt, then coaxed him to lie down on his stomach on top of the bed. "God, Starsk...you're a mess."
"How bad is it?" asked Starsky, his voice barely audible.
Bad enough, thought Hutch, sitting down on the edge of the narrow bunk. Aloud he said, "Mostly just bad welts, but three or four of them are actually cuts, and that's where the blood is coming from." He swallowed. "You might scar a little from those."
A ghost of a smile appeared on Starsky's face. "Hey, the chicks dig scars."
It was the wrong thing to say. Hutch stood up, hands clenched at his sides. "Dammit, Starsk," he said in a hushed but heated voice, "haven't you got enough scars already? My God, in a few more years your back is going to look like a roadmap! This was a totally unnecessary risk for you to take. We didn't learn anything, and we can hardly make much of a case out of one incident of corporal punishment." He started pacing in the gap between bunks, which only allowed him room for a few steps. "Maybe we should call this whole thing off before one of us gets really hurt."
Starsky waited until his partner was momentarily quiet. "Finished with your rant, now?"
Hutch sighed and sat back down on the bunk. "Yeah...." He dropped his head into his hands for a moment. "Starsk, do you have any idea how very tired I am of seeing you shot, beat up, poisoned, and kidnapped? After a while, it gets pretty old...makes me a little crazy."
"Comes with the job, buddy. If we wanted a safe, boring life, we shoulda been accountants."
Hutch smiled at that. "Now that's a frightening mental image. You as an accountant." He squeezed Starsky's shoulder briefly, trying to avoid any of the welts. "Why don't you just rest for a moment? I'm going to go talk with Hannah, see if she has anything to put on these cuts. Then we can figure out our next move."
Hutch found Hannah in the dairy, straightening up for the day. When he explained his errand, she immediately stopped what she was doing and began rummaging in a basket. "Of course I'll help him, Ken. The poor man. I had to close my eyes today, I couldn't stand to watch. He looks too much like...." Her hands came up with a large roll of gauze and a small jar. "Ah, here we go."
She insisted on accompanying him back to the bunkhouse, to tend to Starsky's wounds herself. "It's all right. No one will mind; I'm really the only one here who knows much about this sort of thing." She shook her head ruefully. "And, you could say I've had some experience caring for victims of Temple discipline."
Hutch wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but they had arrived at the bunkhouse. Hannah quickened her step, reaching Starsky's side before he did. She knelt to inspect the wounds, and uttered a low wordless cry of distress at the sight. Starsky turned his head slightly to look at her.
"Hey, buddy," he whispered. "This angel must be your boss. You didn't tell me she was so pretty."
"Sssh, hold still," answered Hannah, blushing slightly in the dim light. "I'll need to wash your back, then we'll put the salve on and wrap you up. You'll be okay, but you'll be sore for a few days." She proceeded to suit action to words, cleaning and dressing the wounds deftly. Hutch knelt by his partner's head, talking to him reassuringly but feeling generally useless.
He glanced over at Hannah, and was surprised to see that the look of gentle concern on her face had been replaced by one of tight-lipped anger. She finished securing the bandage and stalked around to the head of the bed where Starsky could see her. "You must listen to me, David, if you know what's good for you. Either leave now, while you still can...or learn to do as you're told, keep your mouth shut." Her eyes filled with tears, and when she spoke next she used a whisper. "Why can't you men learn? Why is your pride so important to you? Why--?" She stopped, unable to continue, and bowed her head.
Later, Hutch would never be able to remember how the flash of insight finally came to him...how his tired brain finally put together all of the little hints Hannah had given him. Maybe it was his subconscious working overtime, maybe it was just dumb luck; but he would never know exactly where his next words came from.
"Hannah, look at me," he said softly. "Hannah, your husband. What happened to him? Was he beaten like this? Or worse?" Heart pounding, he waited for her to answer, or take flight.
For a moment, she stood there, trembling, and Hutch could almost feel her gathering her resolve. "Yes," came the almost inaudible answer. "He was beaten. Many times."
Time to take the next risk. "Enough to kill him?" he asked, trying to keep his voice calm and neutral.
Her answering shake was more emphatic this time. "No...at least...that's not how he died." She covered her face with her hands. Hutch started to go to her, but Starsky snaked out a hand and yanked him back.
"Just leave her alone," Starsky breathed in his partner's ear. "She's gonna tell you. If you touch her, you'll scare her." Both men watched quietly as the dairymaid struggled to compose herself. She sat down awkwardly on one of the empty bunks; after a few moments she spoke again.
"Caleb always got into trouble with the elders, over little things. He was full of new ideas, wanted to improve everything. He thought we should send members out for more education. The first time he was beaten, it was for arguing about me. We weren't married yet, just promised to one another. I told him that I wished I could go to college, study to become a nurse. He...felt strongly about it, and took my request to the elders. I guess he couldn't take 'no' for an answer. He was whipped, just like you were today, David. I dressed his wounds and pleaded with him not to make them angry." She shuddered with the returning memory. "After we were married, he kept quiet for a while, then started speaking out again. He was whipped publicly three more times."
With great effort, Starsky managed to sit up, supported by his partner. "Hannah," asked the injured detective, "how did he die?"
She looked down at her hands, twisted together in her lap. "I was pregnant," she whispered. "We were so happy. I wasn't even starting to show yet, but Caleb was so proud. When the nurse from the county came out to teach her nutrition classes, he made sure I was involved. Then...people started getting sick, with a rash and fever, and the nurse got really worried. She told us that the disease could hurt my baby."
Hutch realized, with a sickening clarity, that he knew where this was going. "What did Caleb say when he found out?"
"He wanted to take me away, to town...get me a real obstetrician, and have the baby born where it could get the help it needed. First, he asked for permission, but they wouldn't let us go. So...we tried to sneak away one night, on foot. They caught us." Her voice shook. "The elders sentenced him to death. Sacrificed, and burned upon the altar."
Hutch didn't trust himself to speak...he was afraid that if he did, he would be throwing up for the second time that day. It was Starsky who broke the silence. "Hannah...did you see this? Did those bastards make you watch?"
She nodded. "They made us all watch."
"And your baby?" prompted Starsky gently.
"He was born six months later, with deformities. You could tell he was blind, and there were other things wrong." She began to cry. "He was all I had left of Caleb, but they sacrificed him too, because he wasn't perfect. Just like all the others, the other deformed babies."
The two detectives looked at each other. Now was the time for sympathy, for reassurance...and for Hannah to get some answers. Hutch walked over, sat down next to the young woman. "Hannah, it's all right. You were right to tell us...we'll get you out of here. We're undercover detectives, David and I."
Her head jerked up, and her eyes widened in surprise in the delicate, tear-stained face. "Police? You're really police?" They both nodded carefully. "And you'll take me away?" she asked faintly. Hutch thought he could see a trace of hope returning to Hannah's face, as he felt relief wash through his own body.
"Yes, we'll protect you," he answered firmly. Now he dared to place a comforting arm about her slender shoulders. "We'll need you to testify, of course."
She looked up at him, obviously puzzled, but with an expression of trust on her face that wrenched at Hutch's heart. "But...I thought only men could testify!"
Starsky laughed despite his pain. "Sweetheart, have you got a lot to learn about the real world!"