For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
Hutch stood in front of the small mirror, assessing his appearance. "Do I look non-threatening enough?" He was wearing faded but clean blue jeans and a plain white T-shirt, and work boots. Before they'd come out to Independence, he'd had his hair and moustache trimmed neatly.
Starsky snickered from his vantagepoint of lounging on the bed. "You look positively harmless. They might decide to keep you forever. Stop jittering, Hutch. The supply runner won't be here for hours. You could still be asleep." He yawned. "I could still be asleep."
"I can't just pop out there the moment the guy shows up," explained Hutch, pulling a baseball cap out of his duffel bag and jamming it on his head. "That'd be way too suspicious. I should be sitting out by the curb, looking like a lost soul. Preferably reading something pious."
"That's what the hat's for, dummy." The battered headpiece proudly displayed the name of a feed store in Modesto. Hutch had been smug about finding it. "And there's a spot down there in the shade. It's not that hot yet, anyway." He rifled through the small collection of reading material that he had brought to the desert. "I guess that the Reader's Digest is pretty safe." He rubbed his moustache thoughtfully. "'Course, I stole it from Dobey's office."
"Oh, he won't care. He just keeps that in there for me to read while I'm waiting to be chewed out for something stupid." Starsky's expression grew more serious. "Hey, Hutch?"
"Hmm?" Hutch was rearranging his duffel bag, selecting only innocuous items that he could take with him without raising suspicion.
"You know...you're not a lost soul. Don't let them make you believe that you are. If you go in there telling yourself you believe nothing, you're gonna be even more vulnerable." Starsky said quietly.
Hutch zipped up the bag and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You know I'm not exactly religious, Starsk, if that's what you mean. That part's going to be a little tough for me."
"That's not quite what I meant, but...yeah. Seems the only time I feel religious is when some creep's got a gun pointed at your head, or mine. 'Oh, God, please save our asses again!' And most of what I was raised with, I don't think about that often. But without the rules, without the window dressing...it all boils down to loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Hutch, the first part's your business, but I'd say you do pretty well with the second part. Neither of us is a saint, and there's room in there for doubt, too, but...." Starsky trailed off lamely. "I guess you understand."
Hutch squeezed his partner's arm. "I think I do. If I'm just a...a blank piece of paper, it'll be easier for them to just write their beliefs all over me; but if I can figure out what I do believe, even if it's as simple as what you said, then they'll have to use an eraser first." He stood up, and abruptly changed topics. "Okay. Two weeks from today, I'll be back. Stay up here that day, and keep your eyes peeled. Call in 'sick' to the garage or something that day, and make sure you have a few things packed. But don't look too ready."
"Yes, Mom." Starsky sighed. "And if you're not here? In two weeks?"
"Kathy has a map to the ranch. If I don't come back, your best bet is to bring the Land Rover on out to the ranch, come 'looking' for me. Just play the worried friend. Either they'll let you see me, or they won't. If they will, I can pretend to convince you to stay for a while. If they won't, then it's up to you to bring in the troops and get me out of there."
"You better believe it, Bozo. I'll come in with a tank if I need to."
"Okay, I'm gonna go down now and wait. When the guy shows up, I'll ask him if I can ride out there as a possible new member. But I'll tell him that I need to run up here and get my stuff and say goodbye. That should keep things from looking too canned, and it'll let them know that I have a concerned friend in town who knows where I'm going. That should help protect me to a certain extent." Hutch put his bag down, picked up the magazine. "Go back to sleep if you want; just make sure you're here."
"All right, farmer boy. See you in a while."
Settled in the meager shade offered by the store awning, Hutch waited, half-dozing. Kathy had said that the Temple owned several Jeeps, but was unable to give the detectives much more help to identify the supply driver from the ranch. Several too-new, too-clean cars came and went, their occupants mostly coming back out of the store with groceries and cold drinks. A few locals wandered by on foot, giving the man on the sidewalk curious glances, but no one bothered him. Hutch tried to interest himself in the magazine, but gave up as it got hotter and the sun-glare made the letters dance recklessly on the page. He was just about to go inside the store for a few minutes to cool off when an appropriately dusty Jeep pulled up with a single occupant behind the wheel.
The man parked the Jeep practically in front of Hutch, and strode into the store without a backward glance. Tossing the magazine aside, Hutch got up and discreetly followed him in, fumbling in his pocket for loose change to buy a soda. He strolled around the store aisles for a while then selected a soda and got in line behind his subject. The Temple supply driver and the cashier finished their transaction (Hutch noticed that the man paid cash, a sizable amount), and Hutch hurriedly paid for his soda and stepped back out into the glare.
Out at the curb, the driver was loading bags and boxes into the back of the Jeep. Hutch carefully approached him. "Excuse me, sir," he asked in his politest voice, "My name is Ken. I'm trying to make contact with the folks up at Temple of the Sinai. Would you be with them?"
The driver, dressed much like Hutch, appeared to scrutinize him slowly and deliberately. "I would. What's your business?"
Hutch squelched an urge to smile brightly, and instead forced his face to remain serious. "I'd like to come up and talk with the elders, if I could. I'm...interested in visiting, maybe joining your group." He was prepared to tell the rest of his story if necessary, but it would be easier if he could just tell them all at once and avoid trapping himself with inconsistencies. To his relief and surprise, the man shrugged.
"You can ride out with me today, if you want. But it's up to the elders whether you can join." He spoke slowly and laconically. Hutch nodded, trying to match the man's deliberateness.
"Just let me go get my bag. I'm staying with a friend, and I should tell him where I've gone. Be right back."
Hutch turned and walked unhurriedly across the street. As soon as the door to the apartment stairs closed behind him, he abandoned the nonchalant pose and ran up the stairs to the apartment. He burst into the room, startling a sleepy Starsky who was dozing in front of the television. "This is it! The driver doesn't seem to mind." He grabbed his duffel bag and denim jacket.
Starsky caught his elbow. "Hey, be careful, Hutch. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Hutch smiled. "That doesn't limit me very much," he answered lightly.
"You know what I mean, turkey. Just...be careful."
"It's just two weeks. We'll both be fine." Hutch reached down and squeezed his friend's hand. "Don't pester Kathy too much." He turned and passed quickly through the door. Before I lose my nerve, he thought.
Starsky went to the windowsill and stared morosely out the window, watching as Hutch crossed the street and tossed his bag in the back of the Jeep. He sighed. "Hutch, how'd I let you talk me into this?" He shuddered. "You haven't been gone thirty seconds, and already I'm talkin' to myself. What a nutcase."