For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
Despite the seriousness of the assignment, both men felt their spirits lift as they left the city smog behind and sped out into the desert. Starsky, who hated mornings with a passion under the best of circumstances, was initially a little grouchy; coffee and donuts from a truck stop soon improved his mood to the point of making actual conversation. They speculated at length about the cult, wondering what they would find at the ranch.
"Hey, Hutch, how long do you think before I can join you out there?" Starsky swallowed the last bite of his third donut, looking regretfully at the empty bag.
"Depends on how suspicious they are, and how good of an acting job I do. I'd say about two weeks, though. I'll try to come out on the supply run at the two-week point."
Starsky was quiet for a moment, gazing at the sparse scenery. "You better be careful, Blintz. You can't give them anything to complain about while you're there. You won't have any way of gettin' hold of me if something goes wrong."
"Believe me, that thought has occurred to me," Hutch agreed fervently. "I intend to be a good little cultist, and do whatever they tell me to do. I'll keep my ears open, but I think we should save any actual investigative work until you join me. Kathy thinks they don't have any firearms, but we'll still be outnumbered."
"Speaking of firearms...Hutch, you gonna go in armed?"
The blond detective sighed. "I don't see how I can, babe. Too dangerous. If they find out I'm a cop, I'm dead. This is one situation where it's safer to be unarmed, Starsk. When I come back for you, you can pass me our weapons...they'll trust me by then."
Starsky considered that for a moment. "Yeah, guess you're right. You should be safe, long as you behave and don't mouth off." He grinned wickedly. "Guess it's a good thing it's you goin' in first, and not me! I'd be up to my ass in trouble by the first day."
"Instead, you'll be pestering Kathy and getting to know the sheriff's brother-in-law. Try not to mess up anyone's car too badly."
"Try not to milk the wrong end of the goat, shepherd boy."
In addition to arranging the cover job for Starsky at the garage (called, simply, Independence Garage), Sheriff McNeil had secured a tiny studio apartment for them. The location couldn't have been better; it was on the second floor, across the street from the general store. On the ground floor was a decent little diner, and the two men headed there for something to eat as soon as they had stored their baggage. Even though it was only May, the air was already beginning to feel significantly warm by late morning; the shorts that they had felt silly wearing as they left L.A. now seemed to make a little more sense.
Since it was the weekend, the town was relatively quiet. Starsky popped into the garage and introduced himself to the owner, while Hutch waited outside. Even with the sheriff's assurance of his brother-in-law's trustworthiness, the two detectives agreed it would be better for the man not to have met Hutch. They located the public building, which housed the county courthouse and other county offices as well as City Hall. That accomplished, the remainder of their day stretched before them.
"If I really was newly divorced, and visiting you here for the first time in years, what would we do?" puzzled Hutch. "Maybe this wasn't such a good cover. This place is so dead, it wouldn't be my first choice as a place to take a depressed friend." They had returned to the apartment, for lack of anything better to do.
"Well...maybe that's a good cover story all by itself. We'll just tell those nice folks out on the ranch that they HAVE to take you in, to save your life from terminal boredom." Starsky threw himself down on the bed. "I need a nap. You picked me up in the middle of the night, and my brain's fuzzy."
"Of course, the chili dog and fries probably isn't helping." Hutch reached into his bag, pulling out one of the animal husbandry textbooks he had borrowed from the library at home. "Go ahead if you want. I"m going to study a little more."
"Don't get too much into this ranch thing," came the response, muffled by the pillow that Starsky had already buried his face in. "I don't want you pulling any career-change surprises on me."
Hutch smiled. "Not a chance, Gordo."
On Sunday, Starsky and Hutch agreed to take the Land Rover and go exploring in the desert. That seemed like a logical thing for a local to do to entertain his out-of-town guest. They stayed far away from the area surrounding the Temple of the Sinai ranch, choosing instead to meander in the opposite direction.
"After all," pointed out Hutch, "it wouldn't be very good for my cover if they catch us snooping around their property."
By midday, both men were stunned by the heat and thoroughly impressed by the arid landscape. Starsky shook his head. "Can you imagine trying to survive out here in this heat, without a car? That kid--Daniel--he's got guts." They were perched on a large rock, studying the view.
"In this weather, he would have died if those dune-buggy drivers hadn't found him." Hutch took a swig out of his water-bottle, suddenly noticing how good the warm and slightly stale water tasted. "Maybe he knew that, Starsk. Maybe he decided he'd rather die than live as a slave one more day." He rested his chin on his hand. "He was free once, when he was younger, and he never forgot what it felt like."
Starsky glanced at his partner. "You thinkin' about what it's going to be like, pretendin' to join that group?"
Hutch nodded. "In a way, this will be the most alien thing we've ever tried to do as undercover cops. I think it's human nature to question, to challenge authority occasionally. Shit, look at us with Dobey. We respect him, where it counts...but we're also always trying to see how much we can get away with."
"You'll do fine, buddy. You can play by the rules when you need to."
"I hope so." He sighed. "That's not what worries me the most, though. What if I get into it too much, start believing my own lies? What if they mess with my head so much that it all starts to make sense?"
Starsky shook his head. "Hutch, you said it yourself. You'll remember...what the real world feels like, you'll never forget what it's like to be your own man, make your own decisions. People who go for this sort of thing...they want to be led, to have others make up their minds for them.
"They can't screw you up too much in two weeks. And then I'll be there." Starsky grabbed the water bottle from his partner, took a generous swig. Hutch ineffectually tried to grab it back.
"Hey, give me that. Where's yours?"
"In the car. Probably. I think."
Hutch sighed. "Lawrence of Arabia, you are not."