For Disclaimers, see Part One. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Temple of the Sinai
Night had fallen on the ranch, bringing with it a level of quiet that Hutch had rarely experienced except on solo camping trips. No traffic, no televisions...even the livestock was quiet, except for the occasional bleat or whimper. Once, faintly, he heard a baby crying, the sound of a hungry newborn. Hutch lay on his assigned bunk in the darkened "bachelor's hall." The room held about twenty bunks, though not all were occupied. In the dim moonlight coming from the windows, Hutch could make out the slats of the plainly constructed bunk bed above him.
A strange day, he thought to himself. Although he had been on edge when he arrived at the ranch, he had become more and more relaxed. His guide, Brother Jacob, had given him a detailed tour of the ranch, complete with a running commentary of people and customs. He was by far the most talkative person Hutch had met so far on this undercover episode.
It was hard to reconcile this harmonious, industrious enterprise with the story told by young Daniel, or the concerns raised by Kathy and her CPS people. Maybe it's all a big misunderstanding, he thought drowsily. These people are strict, but it's hard for me to imagine them beating their children, or sending a rebellious teen out to die in the desert. Maybe the boy had been unhappy, but it now seemed entirely possible that he ran away on his own after all.
Again, Hutch heard the infant's faint cry, far off in one of the smaller family cottages. The sound reminded him of the other half of the investigation, the missing babies--or missing pregnancies, he amended. For all they knew, the poor women may have just miscarried from the illness.... Kathy had admitted that they hadn't really been able to get much definitive proof of anything medical on the ranch.
He sighed to himself. Either there really had been crimes committed here, in which case he needed to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut, or there hadn't been. If the latter, he was going to have a peaceful few weeks of the simple life, and he admitted to himself that he was actually rather looking forward to the experience. He grinned to himself, thinking about how Starsky would handle this plain, hardworking, Puritan atmosphere. No TV, radio or movies; no junk food or pizza delivery. Starsk, he thought...maybe you'd better hope I figure this case out before you get here.
"So who's Harold?" asked Starsky. He and Kathy were strolling down the sidewalk of Independence's main downtown street. The dinner had been simple, authentic and tasty; both had enjoyed a couple of beers with their spicy food. Starsky felt unexpectedly happy. As much as he already missed his partner, he had to admit that Kathy's lively company helped a lot.
Kathy laughed. "Harold runs the garage. Technically speaking, I guess he's your temporary boss. Didn't you meet him yet?"
Starsky smacked himself in the forehead. "That's right, that was his name. I guess I'd better actually go in tomorrow and play mechanic."
"Just leave my car alone, please. Harold's causing me enough grief as it is; all I need now is a cop pretending to be a mechanic." She shook her finger at him threateningly, and Starsky took the opportunity to capture her hand and hold it lightly.
"He's got your car? How'd you get to work, then?"
She threw her head back and laughed again. "Walked, of course. This isn't LA, you know. We actually make use of our legs. I only live about half a mile from the office."
They were passing the county building again, so Starsky hopped up onto the low concrete wall than ran in front of it. Still holding Kathy's hand, he walked along the wall as if he were a tightrope walker, tiptoeing with exaggerated care. He stopped when he reached the stairs going up to the building.
"Do you need anything from your office? Because I intend to prove to you that LA people CAN walk by escorting you home." He hopped off the wall and leaned close. "After all, there may be crazy cultists out, or snakes, or something."
Kathy gently freed her hand. "It's nighttime, David. The snakes are asleep. You're welcome to walk me home, but I can take care of myself." She smiled and patted his face, as if to take the sting out of her words. "Come on. I'll introduce you to Monster."
"My cat. He protects me from snakes, lizards and strange men."
"Am I a strange man?" asked Starsky, trying to get a good look at her face in the dim light.
He heard her laugh softly, and felt her hand slipping back into his of its own accord. "Strange enough. But you're cute, so we'll see what Monster says."
Fifteen more minutes of pleasant, companionable walking brought them to Kathy's small house, a small bungalow that appeared white in the moonlight. She unlocked the door and led her guest inside. The house was tidy but sparsely furnished, with none of the feminine touches Starsky would have associated with a woman living alone. The floor was bare polished wood, and Kathy sat down on a chair near the door to remove her boots.
"Do you want me to take my shoes off, too?" asked Starsky, eyeing his dusty sneakers.
"Suit yourself. I just like the way the floor feels on my feet." She wrenched the second boot off, and padded toward the living room. "Monster? Here, kitty, kitty!"
Starsky heard an answering sound from the living room: half growl, half chirrup. A scruffy orange cat walked stiff-legged into the front hallway, yowling back at his mistress. Kathy went down on one knee to scratch his ears.
"Come and meet him, David. He's an old fellow, almost sixteen, but he still thinks he's quite the fighter and hunter. Brings me little presents now and then, usually some poor lizard."
Starsky stroked the cat's back. "Why do you call him Monster?"
"I'm not sure who started that; might have been one of my old boyfriends. His real name is Promi. Short for Prometheus." When Starsky looked at her quizzically, she explained. "In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the hero who captured fire from the gods and brought it back for mortals. I was going through a literary phase when I named him." She rose and walked into the living room, gesturing for Starsky to join her. The cat followed them, weaving around their feet and bumping against Kathy's ankles.
"You sound like Hutch," commented Starsky, as they sat on the couch. "Every once in a while he comes up with obscure things like that." He sighed. "I wonder how he's doin' out there."
Kathy was amused. "David, he just left today. I'm sure everything is fine." She sat back, and turned slightly to get a better look at her date's face. "Do you always worry about him like this?"
"No, not usually...but I don't usually let him go off by himself for two weeks like this. It's gonna get to me even worse before it's over." Starsky snorted. "Maybe it would be better if I felt like I was going to actually do something useful here while he's out there settin' up our cover."
"You mean, helping Harold mess up my transmission doesn't sound useful enough?" asked Kathy with mock astonishment.
"I think I'll spend a few hours down there tomorrow, but if it's okay with you I'd like to come by your office and go through the files on the cult. Maybe I can find some little bits that'll help me when I get out there." Starsky glanced at the Kit-Kat wall clock hanging by the window. "It's getting late, and you've got to work tomorrow." He rose. "I'd better get on back."
Somewhat to his disappointment, Kathy did not urge him to stay, but she did walk him to the door. "Have a nice walk, David, and sleep well. Thanks for dinner. And thanks for breaking up the routine around here a little bit." She stood on tiptoe, kissed him lightly. "Don't steal any more roses, though. There's a fifty-dollar fine if you get caught."
Hutch was awakened at an early hour by the sounds of the other men in the bunkhouse, preparing for their day.
There was an old-fashioned basin and pitcher at one end of the room, and he could hear sounds of splashing and shaving as well as the thump of heavy boots on the wood floor. It struck Hutch as somewhat odd, however, that he heard none of the joking banter and good-natured grumbling that he would have expected from more than a dozen boys and young men getting ready at such an unearthly hour. Such serious people, he thought to himself. Maybe I'm just so used to Starsky's clowning around. Reluctantly, he climbed from the warm bed and dressed.
After a communal and silent breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, Hutch walked to the building he had come to think of as "ranch headquarters." This was a smaller structure that served both as living quarters for Brother Benjamin and his family, who seemed to be the cult leader, and as an office for the ranch's financial affairs. There, he was interviewed briefly by the elder and his wife, Sister Ruth.
"I think we'll use you both in the dairy and in the school," concluded Brother Benjamin. "You're well educated, and we always need help teaching the young ones their letters. But they've got the week off right now to help with planting. Go to Sister Hannah in the dairy, and she'll show you your duties."
Thus dismissed, Hutch found his way to the dairy, having been shown the building the previous day. The Temple kept goats, but no milk cows, and Brother Jacob had told him that the group made their own cheese and yogurt with the resulting milk. Hutch stuck his head inside the clean little building. "Hello?"
"Come in," answered a low voice. Hutch did so, and was surprised to see a young woman in front of him. For some reason, he had been expecting another Sister Ruth--stout, middle-aged and brisk. The dairy mistress appeared to be in her mid-twenties and had none of Sister Ruth's bustling mannerisms.
"My name is Ken. I've just been admitted as a seeker. Are you Sister Hannah?"
She nodded, green eyes meeting his only for an instant before she looked demurely away. She was of medium height, and slender, with dark blonde hair coiled under a white kerchief. "I am."
Hutch cleared his throat. "I've been assigned to help you, I guess. If...if that's okay with you."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "That will be nice. I haven't had a helper for the last few weeks, since...." She trailed off. "Have you ever worked in a dairy before?"
Hutch gave her what he hoped was a winning smile. "No, but I'm a fast learner, and I'm sure you'll be an excellent teacher."
Sister Hannah blushed and looked away again. "No, I'm not a very good teacher, but the work isn't difficult." She took a deep breath. "Come. Let me show you what we do."