For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
Starsky, unwilling to surrender Kathy's business card, placed a call to Daniel's aunt and arranged for the two detectives to meet with the boy that afternoon after school. "His aunt says he's settlin' in really well, and hates to miss school," he explained to Hutch. "I bet he's gettin' a kick out of having a normal life again. They'll expect us at about three."
"Okay. In the meantime, we need to work on our cover stories. Which means we need to go have that wrestling match, or coin flip, or whatever."
Starsky studied his hands. "Uh, Hutch...we're both goin' in eventually anyway, right?"
"That was the general idea. Too dangerous for one man alone, I think."
"You can go in first if you want to. I don't mind," shrugged Starsky magnanimously.
Hutch stared at him, incredulously. "You what? You feeling okay, Starsk?"
Starsky attempted to look dignified. "Don't you think we're old enough to stop snortin' and pawin' the ground over who gets to do what?"
"Oh, no, I know what you're up to." Hutch began to laugh. "You're going to get me stuck out there alone with the Desert Puritans for a couple of weeks while you roll your puppy-dog eyes at Kathy and go sight-seeing. Starsk, I bet she's one of the only single women in town. Be careful; those desert boys may not appreciate your city-slicker competition."
"Yeah? What have they got that I haven't got? Besides...I like her. Y'know, Hutch, I get the feelin' she's not the kinda girl to fall for my usual tricks."
"Well, you'll have plenty of time to find out. So what's my cover story?"
Eventually they came up with a sketchy background for Hutch, sticking as much truth in as possible. He would be a recently divorced man from Minnesota, coming out to California in search of a new life. Starsky would be an old friend, living in Independence and...doing what? A call to the Inyo County Sheriff's Office introduced them to Sheriff McNeil, who was happy to arrange a cover "job" for Starsky, playing mechanic at the town's only garage. "The owner's my brother-in-law," the sheriff explained. "He'll know it's just a cover story, but he'll keep his mouth zipped. Truth is, no one here is too comfortable with the group up on the ranch. You can count on any help you need."
"Friendly fellow," commented Starsky, after the sheriff hung up.
"His brother-in-law?" laughed Hutch. "Starsk, why do I feel like I'm in a bad western?"
That settled, they returned to the task of fleshing out Hutch's "motivations" for being interested in the cult in the first place. They considered and discarded several cheesy notions, then Starsky snapped his fingers. "Didn't Kathy say there was another branch of the cult in Montana, where they first came from?"
"Yes, but - -"
Starsky cut him off. "Okay. You had a sister who joined. You don't remember what name she took when she joined, but she seemed really happy, and you always wondered if the Temple of the Sinai would do the same for you. But, she's dead now...in childbirth, maybe, and you were comin' out there anyway to look me up, so you thought you'd check it out."
Hutch mentally sorted through Starsky's confusing pronouns, then nodded. "That would probably work. If she was still alive, it would make more sense to look up the Montana branch, but if she's dead... How will we work you in?"
"Simple," Starsky grinned. "I'll be your skeptical best friend, coming out there to humor you and prove them wrong. No cult can resist a challenge, and that'll be more believable than both of us bein' interested."
Hutch eyed him critically. "Let's see, Kathy said they were hardworking, monogamous, pious, and respectful. Yeah, you'll be a challenge, all right."
Somehow, both detectives had expected Daniel to be a disturbed, withdrawn young man. Nothing could be further than the truth. The handsome redheaded boy who sat at his aunt's kitchen table, devouring a bowl of ice cream with the healthy appetite of any teenager, seemed excessively polite but otherwise normal. But, Hutch said to himself...he was only in the cult a few years, and probably never really fit in.
The two detectives spoke with Daniel for almost two hours, and Hutch took pages of notes, mostly on the customs and mannerisms of the people he would have to infiltrate. He knew he would have to learn to fit in quickly to avoid suspicion. Daniel wasn't entirely sure what had happened to the babies that had been exposed to rubella; but as a young single male he wouldn't have had much to do with the areas of pregnancy, childbirth and babies. He did state unequivocally that he never saw any of those particular infants, alive or dead; and that the Temple had not held any funerals for the infants. "It was as if they never existed."
When it came to discussing his brother Aaron, Daniel had some definite opinions in addition to the few facts that he knew. "They killed him," said the boy, flatly. "I can't prove it, but I know that's what happened. Aaron always had a hard time on the ranch. Most of the kids had grown up there; we were outsiders. We remembered what it was like to go shopping, go to school. I kept telling him to cool it, to wait until we were old enough to leave without our parents freaking out too much...but he wouldn't listen. Every year, it got worse; he was always in trouble for one thing or another. The elders said he had a 'rebellious spirit' and that he needed to have it beaten out of him. He got whipped a lot."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances. That admission alone, from this self-possessed teenaged boy, was sufficient grounds for an investigation. "What finally happened?" asked Starsky gently.
The boy stared at his bowl of Fudge Ripple, idly dragging the spoon through the half-melted mess. "Aaron blew his stack, said he was leaving 'cause he'd had enough. But they caught him...tied him up and tossed him in a shed. My parents were watching, and they didn't even say a word to stop it," observed Daniel bitterly. "Dad wouldn't let me out of the house that night. In the morning, the shed was open, and Aaron was gone. The elders said he'd escaped and was probably lost in the desert. But, none of his things were missing, none of the water bottles were gone. Aaron wouldn't have been dumb enough to run away like that. They killed him, and dumped the body."
Daniel's aunt, a tall woman with her nephew's red hair, came up behind him and place her hands on the boy's shoulders. He closed his eyes, and Hutch could see the hot tears seeping from beneath the boy's eyelids. The aunt spoke softly. "He's right. Those people out there are killers. If my own sister can stand by and watch that being done to her son, then there is no hope for them. You've got to do something." She looked at the two detectives imploringly.
Starsky nodded. "We'll do our best, ma'am."
The remaining few days were spent in frantic education. Starsky, already reasonably adept at fiddling around with the Torino, spent more than a few hours at Merle's garage. The mechanic gave him a fairly thorough crash course in the basics, although Starsky hoped he wouldn't actually have to do much other than hang around the garage and look busy. Hutch had decided that part of his own cover would include a childhood spent on a dairy farm in Minnesota, so he tried to teach himself some useful farm skills. Dairy farms being scarce in the L.A. area, this was carried out mainly by reading and talking to friends who'd grown up on farms.
They had (somewhat reluctantly on Starsky's part) decided that the Torino would be better off left in L.A. as it would appear decidedly out of place in the rural desert community of Independence. Instead, the department secured a battered Land Rover for them, well stocked with spare water and an emergency radio.
Starsky surveyed the vehicle gloomily. "God, this thing is ugly."
Hutch looked up from the back, where he was stashing his belongings. It was Friday evening, and they planned to leave before dawn in order to get to Independence before the heat hit. "It's practical, Starsk. Which is more than I can say for that damned tomato." He closed up the back. "Actually, if I lived out in the desert or mountains, I wouldn't mind owning one of these. Just the thing for camping trips."
"Yeah," agreed Starsky unenthusiastically. "So where do we put the camel?"