For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
"So she's set for tomorrow night?"
Hutch nodded in response to his partner's question. "Yeah, she's ready to go. I didn't tell her much, just to meet me at midnight at the dairy. I figured if things went bad, we might be able to come up with a legitimate reason for her being there." He looked over at Starsky, noting the way his friend still moved stiffly, noticeable even in the dim evening light. "How's the back, Starsk?" he asked softly.
Starsky grimaced. "Healing. But still pretty sore." The beating two days ago had left him looking exhausted, but the salve provided by Hannah had seemed to ease some of the pain. Privately, Hutch thought his partner was probably in a good deal more pain than he would admit to, but he realized that at least some of Starsky's stoicism was necessary.
The afternoon of the beating, after Hannah had composed herself and left the two men to talk, they had painstaking begun to hash out their escape plan. Since Hannah had witnessed the murder of her husband and baby, and was more than willing to testify, the detectives had changed their goal from one of gathering information to one of getting their witness out safely. To that end, Starsky would pretend to be contrite and obedient after his "correction", and in fact had already returned to his duties at the cult's communal garage...a position that would prove to be pivotal in their escape from the ranch.
Hutch shook his head. "I wish we could manage to get out of here without stealing one of their Jeeps. That's going to muddy the waters a bit, legally speaking."
"Can't be helped, buddy...not if we want to get our witness safely through the desert. I don't think Hannah could make it too far on foot. Hell, I couldn't make it too far on foot. In case you haven't noticed, it gets hot out here." Starsky grinned. "Besides, it ain't stealin'. We, as law enforcement officers, are being forced to commandeer the only available transportation."
Hutch snorted. "I hope Dobey sees it that way."
"You worry too much, Hutch. 'Sides, the Jeeps are owned by the cult, right? And Hannah's a member, right? And she's comin' with us, so since she's technically one of the owners...no problem."
"No problem...other than the three of us in an ancient Jeep, temperatures of 100 degrees, rattlesnakes, and a tribe of well-disciplined homicidal maniacs on our tails."
"Knew you'd see it my way, Hutch."
Hutch stood at the doorway of the dairy, peering inside. He was surprised at how much calm Hannah was managing to project as she went about her routine work. He had expected that she would be nervous, on edge...yet on this last day, she gave no outward hint of any inner turmoil. No one, casually observing the young dairymaid, would suspect that she was going through these motions for the last time, that she was planning to leave everything and everyone she'd known...and would be doing so in a few short hours, with two men she barely knew. She completed each task in a meticulous, unhurried manner, with the same attention to quality and detail that she displayed every time Hutch had watched her work. If anything, she seemed more relaxed than usual, more animated.
Watching her face, Hutch thought he understood why. She's at peace with herself, now, he thought...she's come forward with her experiences to someone who cared, who believed her...she's faced down those memories, and she's winning. He smiled to himself as he realized something else: he was proud of Hannah, for the courage she was showing, and he would be prouder still on the day when she would someday take the stand and testify against those who had done irreparable harm to her. She would be an excellent witness, he felt sure.
Self-consciously, he cleared his throat, still standing in the doorway. Hannah looked up, momentarily startled, then smiled as she met his eyes. The change in expression transformed her face with warmth, brought a flush of pink to the too-pale cheeks. God, thought Hutch, do I smile like that at her? We're going to have to watch that, or they'll wonder...what the hell, we're leaving tonight...Her voice interrupted his racing thoughts.
"Hello, Ken," she said in her usual quiet, even voice. "I wasn't expecting you back this afternoon. School is finished?"
"Yes...I thought I would come back and see if you needed any help." He stepped inside, wishing he dared close the door to the dairy. He desperately wanted to touch base with Hannah, make sure she understood their escape plans, make sure that she wasn't having any second thoughts. Shutting the door would only arouse suspicion, something they couldn't afford tonight.
"I'm just finishing up; there's really nothing left to do. But stay and talk to me while I wash a few things." She flashed him another one of those heart-melting smiles, but this time Hutch thought he detected a trace of wistfulness in its depths. He sat down on one of the empty wooden crates.
"Hannah," he asked softly, even though he was reasonably certain that there was no one within hearing distance. "Are you going to be ready to leave tonight? Are you still okay with that?"
She nodded emphatically. "I'm ready. I've been ready for a long time, I think...I just could never think of a way to leave the ranch," she whispered, looking down.
"It must be difficult for you. To leave your sister, all your friends, every one you know."
"Not all my friends." She swallowed and looked up, meeting his eyes. "Ken...I have to know. You've been so kind, you've become such a friend. Did you...get to know me just because you had to? To find out what happened here, for your investigation? Or..." She paused, biting her lip, unable to continue.
Hutch nodded slowly to himself. He'd been expecting this question, or one like it, since he'd revealed his and Starsky's true status. The toughest part of undercover work was remembering where the persona ended and the investigator began. He knew that on this case, the lines had blurred; while Hutch the detective had been busy investigating, Ken the erstwhile spiritual pilgrim had been forming a relationship with Hannah...just what kind of relationship, he still wasn't exactly sure. He'd barely ever touched her, but he knew every nuance of her voice, every little mannerism.
"At first," he answered carefully, trying to be as honest as possible, "at first you were just a nice person to work with. By the time I really thought you might know something, I was already starting to really enjoy your company." God, that sounds stuffy, thought Hutch. "You've been my friend while I've been here, kept me from going crazy. I think even if you had turned out to know nothing that could help our case, I'd still be trying to get you out of here and take you with us." He knew as he said it that it was true. "You deserve a better life, Hannah."
"Will you still be my friend, after we escape? I'm not really going to know anyone else out there." She smiled through tear-filled eyes. "It's funny...since Caleb died, I've been alone here, even though I'm surrounded by people. Since I met you, I haven't been lonely very much."
Hutch didn't remember standing or crossing the room, but dimly he realized that he must have done so at some point...since Hannah was now only a few inches away, looking up at him. Gently, he cupped her face with his hand, feeling her shiver slightly beneath his touch. He felt an impulse to take the crisp white kerchief from her head, remove the pins from the coiled dark golden hair...with an effort, he wrenched his thoughts back to her question.
"Of course I'll still be your friend, Hannah." He moved his hand to her chin, lifting her face slightly. "I'll do everything I can to help you get adjusted, get settled. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to see you, but I won't abandon you." He smiled teasingly at her, trying to lighten the mood and calm his pounding heart. "After we get you out of here, and you see what life really has to offer you...college, work, good-looking men...you'll probably forget all about me, anyway."
She shook her head. "Never," she whispered. "I could never forget you."
Somehow, to his distant surprise, her slender arms came up and around his neck; somehow, of their own volition, his own arms twined around her waist. She clung to him for a moment, standing on tiptoe, and Hutch could feel tears against his neck. He hugged her more closely, then gently drew back, resting his hands on her shoulders and smiling down at her. He reached one finger up to her cheek, wiping away a tear, then bent over, intending to give her a gentle kiss on the forehead...but she rose on her toes, and somehow their lips met instead. The kiss was brief, and innocent...then many things seemed to happen at once.
Hannah drawing back, looking at first pleasantly startled, then horrified as she looked over his shoulder at the open doorway...Hutch releasing her, whirling around, seeing Brother Benjamin's look of righteous outrage...his own voice, trying to stammer out an explanation...the sharp smack as Brother Benjamin stepped past him and slapped Hannah...
"Whore!" shouted the elder, his harsh voice ringing in Hutch's ears. "You dishonor your marraige vows, and the memory of your husband. How long have you practiced you harlotries on this man?"
Before Hutch could protest on Hannah's behalf, he was seized from behind by strong and unyielding arms.