My apologies. Somehow there was a screw up in the copying of the text and a chunk was omitted. Both Terra and I have been out all day and I just saw the message with the additional chapters now added.
The final installment of the first draft of a novel written by our old friend Terra Cognita. Hope you have enjoyed it each Sunday for the past few months.
Terra welcomes all suggestions and feedback — this is draft — you can note them in the comments.
“I don’t care what Connolly or anyone else says; seeing Mr. Macias was the right thing to do,” I said.
Roxy and I were sitting across from each other in a booth at Chipotle slowly dissecting our respective chicken and pork burritos. Normally by then, mine would have been gone.
“It was the right the thing to do,” she said. “Confronting Mr. Macias.”
“Even if it means I have to go to jail.”
“You’re not gonna go to jail.”
“You don’t know that. I might.”
“But you didn’t do anything.”
“Exactly. I didn’t do anything. I just stood by while Joan died and they carted her off back to her house.”
“And the DA still hasn’t said anything?”
“I suspect that going after the Church of Scientology isn’t all that easy. They’re a huge organization with huge reserves. No doubt, too, they retain a team of high-paid lawyers. You go after the Church of Scientology, you gotta have all your ducks in a row. Like Connolly said, something like this thing could drag on for years.”
“And that’s not even counting Mr. Macias’ lawsuit. That’s a whole separate deal. Right?”
“I think so. But I’m not really sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if his lawyers got together with the DA’s and they combined forces.”
“Can they do that?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“And in the meantime?”
“You continue working at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and going to CC, and I continue working at Starbucks and going to school at UCSB.” And living together in the Little House. Roxy sleeping on the couch. Me sleeping in my bed. In separate rooms. I dabbed the end of my burrito in salsa and took a bite. I looked across the table at Roxy while I chewed—so much for manners—and said, “You seem to be adjusting to life outside the church pretty well.”
“Thanks to you,” she replied. “I never could have done any of this without your help.”
“Sure you could have.”
“Without any money or place to live? I don’t think so. So…thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” I leaned forward and in a low voice said, “Don’t look now but do those two guys sitting on the other side of the room, under the picture of the harbor, look familiar?”
Roxy smirked. “How can I tell if I don’t look?”
“Just don’t be obvious about it.”
Her eyes shifted all the way to the left while she took a bite of burrito. “I don’t recognize them, but they have the look, don’t they?” she said.
“They’re not wearing black slacks but they’re both wearing white, collared shirts. Like who wears those kinds of shirts with jeans?”
“Nobody at CC, that’s for sure.”
“Nor at UCSB.”
Both guys were blonde, slender, and in their early twenties. Except for their noses, they could have been fraternal twins. One’s nose was small and wide; the other’s was long and narrow with a pronounced bump in the middle. They were eating burritos, too. I couldn’t tell which kind.
“You think they’re SO?” I asked. “Like from OSA—the Office of Special Affairs.”
“Wouldn’t bet against it,” Roxy answered.
“What do we do?”
“What can we do except go about our business. They’re not breaking any laws.”
“So we just let em follow us home?”
“It’s not like they don’t already know where we live.”
“I wonder how long they plan on keeping tabs on us.”
“Knowing Scientology…could be a long time. I doubt they’ll give up anytime soon. Definitely not until the end of any kind of court action. And maybe not even then.”
“But that could take years,” I said.
“And your point is? Remember, Scientology has deep pockets and a work force they barely pay.”
“So we could be followed for years. Damn. That sucks.”
We only had to wait twenty seconds in our car before the two came outside and got in their silver Taurus. And followed us out of the lot. I peeked over the back yard fence when we got home. They were parked a half block down the street right under a street light. Subtle.
“Did you rearrange things in the cupboard?” I asked Roxy. I was standing in the Little House’s kitchenette. Roxy was sitting on the couch.
“No,” she answered. “Why?”
“It just looks like things are positioned a little differently.”
“What do you mean?”
“While we were out and about, another OSA team was going through the house.”
“Really? Like breaking and entering? You think they’d actually do that?”
Roxy chuckled. “In a heartbeat. Wouldn’t even consider not doing it.”
“If that’s the case…” I walked over to my school pack sitting on the kitchen table, pulled out a pen and notebook, and ripped out a blank page. I wrote, “We should check for hidden cameras and listening devices; see if we’ve been bugged,” and handed the note to Roxy sprawled out on the couch.
She glanced at the note and then at me. She nodded and got up. Despite not finding any spyware, I became convinced that someone had gone through my things. Everything in the house seemed a fraction of an inch off.
“Well…even if they didn’t plant anything in the house, we know they’re watching us,” I said.
“Which is kinda creeping me out,” Roxy said.
“I hear you.”
“Would you mind if… I didn’t sleep on the couch tonight?”
My heart skipped a beat. “What’d you have in mind?”
“Maybe I could sleep in the bedroom. Like spread my blanket on the floor next to you. I think I’d feel safer that way. Like they couldn’t abduct me in the middle of the night without anyone knowing about it.”
“Sure. Not a problem. In fact, I think it’s a wise decision.” Real wise.
Roxy grabbed her sheet, blanket, and pillow off the couch and padded into the bedroom. Both of us were fully dressed.
“You wouldn’t have some sort of sleeping pad, would you?” she asked.
“We got a bunch in the garage for when we go camping.”
When I didn’t move, she asked, “You want to go get one for me?”
“Sure,” I said.
When I got back, she already changed into the new pink jammies she and Cindy had picked out during their shopping spree. I’d seen her wearing them before but said, “You look nice.”
The clothes she’d been wearing were neatly folded on the dresser. Including her bra and panties. I unrolled the sleeping pad on the floor next to the bed. Then I and pulled off my tee shirt and tossed it in the hamper next to the closet. Score! Two points. Roxy turned her back on me while I stripped off my shoes, socks, and pants.
Did I take off my boxers and sleep naked like I usually did? Or be a gentleman and slip on a pair of old sweat pants? I decided to just go with the boxers. “You can turn around,” I said. “I’m decent.”
Roxy turned around. Taking in my mostly naked body. Starting at the top and working her way down.
“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” I said.
She knelt down and ran her hand over the pad. “Pretty soft,” she said.
I nodded. “I don’t want to step on you if I have to get up in the middle of the night.”
“I guess you’ll just have to be careful.”
I lay down on the bed and raised up on my elbows. Roxy stared at the pad. I told her that she had to inflate it by blowing air in the valve at the end. Every few blows she glanced my way. I considered punching away the stupid pad and pulling her down on top of me. Instead, I just watched.
When she was done, she positioned the pad next to the bed and spread out her sheet and blanket.
“I’m gonna go brush my teeth,” she said.
“Me too.” Oral hygiene and fresh breath were important.
I mostly looked at her reflection in the mirror over the sink as we stood brushing our teeth. I spit and rinsed. And waited for Roxy. When she was done, she said, “You can leave now; I gotta go to the bathroom.”
“You’re already there,” I said.
“You know what I mean. Go.”
I retreated back to my bed.
Roxy turned off the light when she returned a minute later. Just enough light shined through the cracks in the blinds to see her cross the room and lie down on her pad. I rolled over on my side so I was facing her. Or at least facing the space above her. I couldn’t actually see her face. “Comfy?” I asked.
“Slept in worse places,” she replied.
“Well…if it’s too hard or anything…”
“You are so fuckin obvious.”
I chuckled. “What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
I did. I said, “I do?”
“Well if I’m that obvious…what do you think?”
“I think you should cool your jets.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Make it go right.”
Make it go right was a popular Scientology phrase. I reached down and ran my fingers through her hair. I heard a sharp intake of breath.
“What are you doing?” she mumbled.
“I thought I was so obvious,” I answered.
She didn’t say anything—or jump up and run away—so I continued running my fingers through her hair. I finally sat up and swung my legs off the bed.
“Roll over on your stomach,” I ordered.
“Because I said so. Just do it.”
She rolled over and when I straddled her butt, she didn’t jump up and run away. I didn’t feel a bra strap when I began to massage her shoulders.
“Feel good?” I asked.
I made my way up and down her back before starting in on her arms, paying special attention to her elbows and wrists. First one arm. Then the other. I hoped it was as good for her as it was for me.
“Still doing okay?” I asked.
I got off her a few minutes later and said, “I’m gonna do your legs now.”
No answer. So I put my hands on each side of one of her thighs and pressed. I worked my way down her legs and, just as I’d done with the joints in her arms, I paid special attention to her knees and ankles. First one leg. Then the other. Back and forth. After the fourth or fifth iteration, I moved up and grasped the sides of her thighs. Which weren’t all that far from her butt. I would have liked to have said she moaned when I began to knead it. But she didn’t. At least, not that I could hear. She did roll over on her back a couple of minutes later, pull my head down, and clamp onto my lips with hers.
I couldn’t help moving my pelvis against hers and it didn’t take long before I came in my shorts. She pushed me off beside her so I was lying half on the pad, half off.
“That was nice,” I said. “Very nice.”
“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” I said. So I could wash and change out of my sticky boxers.
Roxy was where I’d left her when I returned to the bedroom. “Want to join me in the bed?” I asked, peering down at her.
“I’m good right here,” she answered.
“Bed’s more comfortable.”
“Forget what just happened.”
“Be pretty hard to forget something like that.”
“Give it your best shot.”
“Yeah… I don’t think so.”
“Listen… I don’t want to forget what just happened. And even if I did, I’m sure I couldn’t.”
“Well just so you know, that’s as far as it goes.”
“What’s as far as what goes?” I asked.
“I mean, this was a onetime deal. Like I told you before, I got a lot on my plate right now. School, work, adjusting to life outside the bubble. All of it. I don’t have time to worry about being in a relationship right now.”
“Then why’d you kiss me? You seemed pretty into it.”
“That’s not the point. The point is, I don’t have time for this.”
“Why not just make it go right?”
“Come on. Nobody has time for half the things they do. That’s life. If we hooked up, it wouldn’t mean you’d stop studying or working or hanging out with Cindy. Or anything.”
“It’d be a distraction.”
“Life’s a distraction.”
“Which is why a person has to choose carefully what to pay attention to. Like every minute I’m with you is a minute I’m not studying. Which translates to taking longer to graduate and get a good job.”
“Oh my god. You just started college and already you’re worrying about graduating and getting a job.”
“I’m not worrying about it. I’m just trying to make sure it happens. Like this lifetime.”
“Trust me; it’ll happen. Lots of guys with way less drive than you graduate college and get good jobs—guys who’ve partied their way through school.”
“And you know this how?”
“It’s just part of being culturally literate. If you’d grown up in the real world, you’d know about things like this.”
So please climb up on the bed and lay down beside me.
“Just because I’m in the real world now, doesn’t mean I’m gonna start drinking and doing drugs and partying all night. Just because there’re a few guys in Scientology fucking up the organization, doesn’t mean all of LRH’s tech and policy is wrong and should be thrown out.”
“I didn’t say it should be. I just meant that you can’t work and study all the time, twenty-four/seven. It’s alright to allow a little time for relationships. I mean as long as we’re talking about Hubbard, didn’t he say the Second Dynamic was the urge toward survival via sex and family?”
“So it seem to me that you’re trying to sublimate the urge.”
“You’re trying to switch off a perfectly natural desire to get together with a boy.” Like me. “And judging by the way you pulled me down on top of you and kissed me, that Second Dynamic urge is exerting itself.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then you explain it to me. You tell me why you kissed me and why you should now disregard what LRH taught.”
“So like right now I should just let you fuck me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m just saying that being in a relationship is built into our genes and perfectly natural. Denying it is like denying Mother Nature. Like saying it isn’t raining outside when it’s pouring.”
“I don’t know…”
“People hook up all the time in the Sea Org, right?”
“So there you go. Even in Scientology, the old Second Dynamic rears its ugly head and people hook up. The only difference is that SO members are required to get married first. With us…you can call it quits and walk away anytime you want.”
Without having to see an Ethics Officer or Master at Arms.
“I get what you’re saying. And I’m not saying that I’m never gonna hook up with anybody. I’m just saying not right now. I’m busy.”
“Well…if you change your mind, you know where to find me.” I rolled over on my back and stared at the pattern of shadows crisscrossing the ceiling.
Roxy was writing at the table and I was doing dishes at the kitchen sink. Morning light streamed through the living room window, lighting up the Little House. As it was Sunday, we were still in our jammies.
“Here, check this out,” Roxy said.
I ambled over and peered over her shoulder at Dad’s old, hand-me-down laptop. With one hand on her shoulder and the other on the mouse, I read and scrolled.
I straightened up when I finished and said, “This is good. You gonna send it to Marvin Brander—the guy with the website?”
“That’s the plan. He said he’d check it out.”
“And if he likes it, he’ll post it on his blog, right?
“That’s what he said.”
“Chapter One, My Life in the Sea Org. I like it. Straight and to the point. You write pretty well for someone with no formal education,” I said truthfully.
“How many chapters you think you got in you?” I asked.
“Don’t know. We’ll see.”
“You decided yet if you’re gonna use your real name?”
“I’m thinking I won’t. At least not to begin with. I might reveal myself later but…” She shrugged. “We’ll see how it goes. Hell, I don’t even know if he’s gonna post the thing.”
“You thought of a screen name?”
“I thought of SO Girl but that’s kinda boring. What do you think of Bubble Girl?”
“I like it.”
While Roxy resumed typing, I walked outside to the backyard and peered over the fence. Two guys sat in a gray sedan a half block up the street. Business as usual. I went back inside. Doug knocked on the door a few minutes later. I invited him in for coffee.
“Hey Roxy, how’s it going,” he smiled.
“Good,” she replied. “You?”
“Same old, same old. What you working on?”
“Just school stuff,” she lied.
“He leaned over and squinted at the screen. “Who’s Bubble Girl?” he asked.
“Oh, just this character I had to create for English class. Everyone is supposed to create a story.” She folded down the screen.
“I noticed the word Scientology. You writing something based on your time in the SO? Like something autobiographical?”
Roxy shook her head. “No. It has nothing to do with me. There just happened to be an Org next to the restaurant where this girl was working. The story’s totally fictional.”
Good girl, Roxy. Quick thinking.
“Cool,” Doug said. “Does she ever go into the Org. Like to do a course or something like that?”
“No. The Org just happened to be there. In the story.”
“Cool. Can I read it?”
“Nah…I don’t think so.”
“Come on. I love to read.”
“This is the first piece of fiction I’ve ever written and so I’m a little sensitive. Maybe I’ll let you read it later, like after I’ve gone over it. This is just the first draft.”
“I could help you with that, maybe. Like edit it. Being a supervisor and all, I’m pretty good with grammar and stuff like that.”
“Speaking of which,” I said. “Isn’t it considered a crime for you to even talk with us?”
“And why would that be?”
“Because we’ve been declared suppressive persons.”
“If you have, it’s news to me. I haven’t seen anything in writing.”
“Then we haven’t been declared? Because in case you didn’t know, we’re both blown. Like we just left without properly routing out. Which is cause for getting declared. Right?”
“People leave Scientology all the time without getting declared. People do a course, decide they’ve had enough, and just never come back to the org to do anything else.”
“Our cases are slightly different,” I understated. “So…talking with us might get you into trouble.”
Doug shrugged. “Nobody knows.”
“But won’t they find out eventually? Like when you go in session and have to confess everything to an auditor?”
“Everything you say in session is confidential.”
Roxy snorted. “Bullshit.”
Doug turned to her. “If you admitted to a crime, sure, you’d be routed to Ethics for handling, but other than that everything is confidential.”
“And since talking with us is a crime, you’d be routed to Ethics,” I said. And everything we said to each other would become public.
I flashed on the two guys parked up the block. No doubt they’d recorded Doug’s visit. Which meant the powers-that-be would know Doug was associating with known criminals—Roxy Brand and Rick Shade.
“I may still be involved, but…” Doug said, “I’m not sure how long I’ll be around.”
“You thinking of leaving Scientology?”
“It’s crossed my mind.”
I wondered if I should have told him about the two guys staking-out the Little House just up the street. Maybe he’d seen them on his way over. Maybe he’d talked to them. Maybe not.
“So what’s your plan?” Doug asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked back.
“I mean, what are you gonna do about your situation?”
“Which situation you talking about?”
“This whole thing.”
“Mind being more specific?”
Doug tilted his head forward. “I mean the whole situation with Joan. Like how she was moved. And all that.”
“You mean am I gonna go to the cops and tell em what really happened?”
“I haven’t decided,” I lied. “For now, I’m just gonna work and go to school and see what develops. Hopefully, nothing will happen and this’ll become ancient history.”
“You ever go see Mr. Macias?”
“Really? Like not even on the phone?”
“Geeze. Why the third degree all of a sudden?”
“I’m just curious, that’s all.”
Roxy slapped shut her laptop and rose from the table. “Well don’t be! This is none of your business.”
“Except it is kinda my business,” Doug replied. “I was there when Joan died. I saw them move the body.”
“Have the cops talked to you?” she asked.
“A few days ago. Some guy named Gardner.”
I couldn’t pretend the detective hadn’t seen me, too, so I said, “Yeah, we’ve met.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“What’d you tell him?” I countered.
“I told him that as far as I knew, Joan had gone home after saying she didn’t feel good. What’d you tell him?”
“The same thing,” I lied for the third time. Or was it the fourth?
“So we’re still on the same page, right?”
Doug pulled out his cell and glanced at its face. “Wow. Time flies. Gotta jet. See you guys later.”
He extended a fist. I bumped it with one of mine. Roxy watched from the sidelines and booted up her laptop once he’d left.
“I think it’s ready to send to Marvin Brander,” she said, not looking away from the screen. “I know it’s not perfect but…it is what it is.”
“You want me to check it out before you send it?” I asked.
“No. I kinda just want to leave it in its raw state. Like it was really written by some dumb-ass ex-Sea Org girl with no formal education.”
“First of all, you’re not dumb and you’re not a bad writer. And secondly, you are going to college. So don’t sell yourself short.”
“Thanks. Okay then, here goes. Copying and pasting and…” She glanced up at me and then back down at the keyboard. “I’m really gonna do this. Hitting ‘send’.”
Roxy and I were on our way to pick up Dev and Cindy. I didn’t spot any innocuous-looking American sedans when I glanced in the rear-view mirror. The two guys I’d seen earlier parked up the block were probably in the middle of ransacking the Little House as we drove. Or planting listening devices.
“I don’t trust him,” Roxy said. “He asks way too many questions.”
“Who the fuck else would I be talking about? He still works at the org, right? Which means he’s still a Scientologist. It just doesn’t make sense that he’d come see us and say the things he said”
“Such as saying he’s thinking of leaving. Scientologists just don’t say shit like that.”
“But Scientologists leave all the time, right?”
“Yeah, but they don’t say they’re thinking about it. Because number one, even saying you’re thinking about leaving is a crime. And number two, Scientologists know that they’ll eventually have to confess to any crimes they commit.”
“In auditing—or sec-checking, right?”
“Right. Despite PR to the contrary, they think the e-meter acts like a lie detector.”
“And like you said earlier, there’s no real confidentiality in auditing.”
“Exactly. So Doug wouldn’t say that kind of stuff to us because he knows it’d come up in session—while auditing.”
“So you think he’s a plant?”
“I think he could be. I wouldn’t put it past the church. They’ve done way worse in the past. It’s how they operate. Like their modus operandi. I heard they even infiltrated the FBI.”
“Holy shit. When was this?”
“Twenty or thirty years ago. So having Doug spy on us is business as usual.”
“He seems like a really nice guy, though.”
“I’m sure he is, but if he thinks spying on us is the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics…”
“And he thinks he’s helping to save the planet…”
“You gotta understand; most of the guys I worked with in the SO were nice guys, too. Some were just more deluded than others.”
“Sounds like you’re coming around. That you’re beginning to see that everything LRH wrote isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“A lot of it, anyway.”
We picked up Dev and Cindy and went for a hike up Rattlesnake Canyon. Afterwards, we took in a matinee followed by something to eat. Halfway through dinner, the shit hit the fan.
Dev, Cindy, Roxy, and I were sharing platters of Moo Goo Gai Pan, orange chicken, and shrimp with lobster sauce when Roxy’s cell—the one Dad and I had gotten her under our family plan—buzzed. She pulled it halfway out of her pocket and glanced at the screen, squinting at the small print as she read. A few seconds later she pulled the phone completely out of her pocket and flicked her finger up the screen. I didn’t like the way she kept glancing at me as she scrolled.
“What?” I asked.
She kept her eyes glued to the phone.
“I assume not many people have your number,” Cindy commented from across the table.
Roxy shook her head but kept reading.
“Who called?” I asked.
She continued staring at the screen. Twice more, she glanced my way. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” she said a half minute later.
“Me too,” Cindy said.
After the two had left, Dev said, “Well that didn’t look good. Any idea what she was looking at?”
I shook my head. “No idea.”
“Whatever it was, kinda freaked her out.”
“She didn’t look good, did she?”
Dev shook his head. “Don’t think it was the California Lottery texting her she’d won the jackpot.”
The girls eventually returned but had apparently lost their appetites somewhere along the way so Dev and I finished what was left of the food. Roxy wouldn’t tell me about the text but when we reached Cindy’s house, she said she was going to stay there.
“What’s going on?” I asked, getting out of the car and following the girls to the front door.
Cindy looked at me with disgust and said, “Perv.”
The night air was warm and still sitting under the jacaranda tree in the back yard. I’d never seen one, but the garden buzzed with crickets.
Dev took a sip of root beer. “You don’t have any idea what she was talking about?”
“No! I swear. You know me. I’m not a pervert. I have no idea what she was talking about.”
“Obviously, it had to do with the text she received.”
“And you have no idea what was on it?”
I shook my head in the dark.
“I’ll call Cindy tomorrow and get the scoop.”
“Thanks.” I took a sip of root beer. “I gotta believe it was someone associated with Scientology who sent her the text. Like who else could it have been? Besides us, she hardly knows anyone else in the outside world.”
“She knows the people where she works. And now that she’s going to school, she knows people from classes.”
“But none of those people know me. And even if they vaguely did, why would any of them talk shit about me? It wouldn’t make sense.” I shook my head. “It has to be someone from Scientology.”
“Why would they do that, though?”
“To get Roxy away from me and back into the fold. So they can control her.”
“By making her think you’re a perv.”
“Just like all the other Wogs out here.”
“Worthy Oriental gentleman. Scientologists use the term derogatorily to mean anyone not like them. Anyone not up to their lofty standards.”
“Sounds kinda racist.”
“It kinda is.”
“Unfortunately, I doubt there’s any way to find out who sent that text,” Dev said. “At least no way to find out by guys like us. The FBI or NSA could probably learn who sent it. But you and me…no way.”
“Unfortunately, I think you’re right,” I said.
“Which brings us back to the question of what you’re gonna do about it.”
“Assuming Scientology sent her the text, there’s nothing I can do besides tell her that it was just a bunch of lies.”
“Unless they weren’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what if what they texted was the truth?”
Falling asleep that night did not go well. The Little House felt empty. And so did I. I pictured Roxy lying awake at Cindy’s, staring at the ceiling, trying to come to terms with feeling she’d been betrayed. By me. The perv. I needed to talk with her. Soon.
I considered jumping in the car and driving over to Cindy’s to talk with her but in the end, decided it would be best to talk with her in the morning after we’d both had a good night’s sleep. I glanced at the clock beside the bed. Four fifteen A.M. I’d be lucky to get an hour or two of sleep before I had to get up and get to my first class at nine A.M.
I met Dev at the UCen—the University Center—for lunch the next afternoon. I hadn’t been hungry since Roxy had called me a perv the night before but got a turkey sandwich anyway. I slid into the booth opposite Dev with my food.
“You talk with Cindy?” I asked.
“We texted a little before she had to get to class.”
“Had she read Roxy’s text—the one insinuating I was a perv?”
“Yeah. She said she’d read it.”
“She didn’t get into the specifics. Just said that it wasn’t very complimentary to you.”
“Like what? Did she give you any details?”
“Didn’t you ask her?”
“Of course I did. But like I said, she said she had to get to class.”
“So you don’t know what the text said.”
Dev shook his head.
“Some detective you are,” I said. “I give you one little task and you blow it.”
“Sorry, man, just didn’t get the chance. I plan on talking with her later.”
“Like when I get around to it. Probably later this afternoon.”
“The sooner, the better.”
“I kinda got that.”
I picked up an extra shift that afternoon slinging lattes and cappuccinos, after which I went home and studied before finally giving up and Googling Scientology. The Internet was rife with unflattering sites. Uncovering dirt on the organization was as easy as eating corn flakes. A lot of angry people had a lot of shit to say. I could have spent days reading blogs and watching YouTube videos put together by people who’d suffered at the hands of Scientology. I curbed my research to how they dealt with perceived enemies. Time and again, at site after site, I came across the same three words: attack, attack, attack.
If L. Ron Hubbard was a genius as his followers wanted me to believe, the man was also deeply paranoid. Everything from the psychiatric industry to Big Brother was not only out to destroy him personally, but were bent on doing in the entire planet. Which didn’t make a lot of sense but then again, raving psychotics often didn’t.
From what I found, attacking those who didn’t agree with Scientology or Hubbard was standard operating procedure. LRH may have kept in the shadows and eventually gone into hiding but that didn’t stop him from writing policy on how to deal with any person or organization seen as antagonistic or a threat. The way to deal with an opponent was to attack—no holds barred. Lying, cheating, breaking laws, pretty much every dirty trick under the sun, was acceptable. Lying to blown Sea Org members fell under this policy.
I called Roxy about what I’d learned. And to set the record straight. She wouldn’t answer my calls or respond to my texts so I finally jumped in the car and drove to Cindy’s. Dev’s car was parked out front when I arrived. I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. Cindy’s mom answered the door.
“Hey Mrs. Stansberry, is Cindy or Roxy home?” I asked.
“They are but I don’t think they want to talk with you,” she answered.
“The thing is, there’s been a misunderstanding and whatever they think I did is a lie. I’ve been libeled. Or slandered. Or both.”
“I’ll let em know.”
“Can I see em? Just for a while?”
“Tonight wouldn’t be good. But I’ll let em know you dropped by.”
“Well could I at least talk with Dev. I see his car is parked out front.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll ask him. Wait here.”
The fog had rolled in so there were no constellations at which to gaze. Hypothermia wouldn’t be a problem but I should have worn a jacket. Eventually, the front door opened again and Dev stepped outside.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I said. “So…?”
“So…they don’t want to talk with you. At least not right now. Maybe sometime in the future.”
“Sometime in the future?” I repeated. “Like tomorrow or a year from now?”
“Don’t know, man. They’re pretty pissed off.”
“Did you see the text?”
Dev nodded. “Pretty bad shit.”
“What’d it say?”
“Sure you want to hear it?”
“Yes, I’m sure. What’d it say?”
“Let’s go sit in my car. It’s fuckin freezing out here.”
We walked out to the street and climbed inside.
“Okay, tell me. Everything. Don’t hold back.”
Dev took a deep breath and let it out. “You sure bro?”
“Yes I’m fuckin sure! Tell me what the text said.”
“Well for starters, it said that moving Joan was all your idea. And…you were the one who drove her to her house and dumped her in the bathtub.”
“No fuckin way!” I exploded.
“Don’t kill the messenger, dude.”
I stared out the window before turning back to Dev. “What else?”
“It said you were responsible for Joan dying. Like you forced her to stay inside the sauna beyond what she could endure.”
“That’s a fuckin lie, too!”
“I know, dude.”
“Fuckin-A. I can’t believe this shit.” I shook my head. “Who wrote all this? And how were they supposed know what happened? Even if it was all a lie.”
“The text was sent by some girl in the Sea Org back in LA down on L. Ron Hubbard Way where we rescued Roxy.”
“She have a name?”
“Don’t know. Just Sandy.”
“But Roxy knows her, right?”
Dev shrugged. “Apparently the two worked together.”
“Which means jack shit. I’m sure someone told her exactly what to write. And considering SO members don’t have phones, I’m sure that someone provided the cell, as well. This whole thing is bogus.”
“How did this Sandy girl come by all this?” I asked. “Did she say?”
“She said you admitted to all of it during something called a confessional down at Int Base.”
Explosion number two: “Holy fuck! No! I never said any of that.
“But you did get this confessional? Which is what, exactly?”
“It’s this thing where they ask you for all the bad shit you’ve ever done and you tell them.”
“Seriously? Like everything?”
“The theory is that a person can’t go truly ‘free’ unless they give up all their sins—which they call overts, by the way.”
“So you didn’t really confess to any to that, right?”
“No! None of this is true! It never happened! I told em a bunch of minor shit that had nothing to do with anything even vaguely related to Scientology.”
“So you didn’t tell em you used to fuck your dog, Ginger?”
“What! Oh my fuckin God! Tell me they didn’t write that.”
Dev winced and held up his palms.
“And just so you know,” I said, “I loved Ginger…just not in that way.”
“I know, bro. I know.”
The fog had thickened until we couldn’t see more than a half block up the street. No doubt Stan and Granderson or some other black and white-clad pair were parked just inside the soup watching us with night-vision goggles. Or whatever technology Special Forces used to see through dense fog. Two dogs began barking back and forth. Probably alerting each other of the two SO guys parked on their street.
Dev faced me. “I’m afraid there’s more.”
I’d gone from feeling angry to feeling numb. “Might as well tell me.
“Well…not only were you fucking Ginger, you were fucking Roxy.”
My chin flopped to my chest. “Why am I not surprised?” I muttered.
“According to your ‘confession’…” He winced again. “She wasn’t very good.”
“At sex? Like I supposedly said she was bad in bed?”
“Afraid so. You said some pretty uncomplimentary stuff about her. Allegedly. ”
“Except we’ve never had sex and I never told anyone I had.”
“I figured I would have heard about it if you’d done the deed. Just saying.”
“You might as well tell me exactly what was said.”
“The text said, that you said, that she had a body like a boy and was stiff in bed. Like a log.”
“Fuck! I can’t believe anyone would do this. This is totally unreal.”
“I hear you, bro.”
“And Roxy believes I said all this?”
Dev shrugged. “Well…she moved out, didn’t she?”
The next day, Dad and I saw Connolly for what I hoped would be the last time. The lawyer had no new news for us, reiterating that if anything did go to trail, the process would most likely stretch out for years.
“And what do I do in the meantime?” I asked.
“Keep your nose clean and let me know if you plan on taking any trips.”
“Like moving to Paraguay?”
“There are a couple of more things,” I said. “Not only does Scientology have guys following and watching me, they’ve resorted to making up lies about me.”
“Unless they’re harassing you, there’s nothing illegal about watching you. Tell me about the lies.”
I recounted what Dev had told me the night before—glossing over the parts about Ginger and sex with Roxy. Dad and Connolly were visibly shocked. Connolly said, “Wow.” Dad said, “Those sons of bitches.
“Do you have a copy of this text?” Connolly asked.
“Roxy does. I don’t.”
“I hate repeating myself, but going after the church would likely drag on for years. Proving they were the ones behind the text would be challenging, to say the least.”
“So you’re saying there’s nothing we can do?”
“I’m saying the chances of bringing them to justice are slim. Proving church officials wrote the text would be tough, if not impossible, to prove. They have very deep pockets and all the time in the world.”
“So there’s nothing we can do?”
“I would suggest you have nothing else to do with the Church of Scientology and get on with your life. If the DA files suit, we’ll deal with it.”
“Why wouldn’t she?”
“The District Attorney has much bigger items on her plate, and Mr. Macias and the church may end up settling out of court.”
“For millions,” I muttered.
“Like I said, the Church of Scientology has very deep pockets.”
Dad drove us home.
Two days later, I was sitting on a bench outside a lecture hall at City College when the doors opens and students began filing out into the quad. I spotted Roxy adjusting one of the straps of her backpack. I fell in beside her and before she had a chance to say anything said, “I swear the text was all a lie. I didn’t say any of those things.”
She kept on walking, weaving through the stream of students on their way to their next class. Or wherever they were going.
“Will you please just talk with me?” I asked.
She kept on walking. I kept pace. We crossed the canyon on the crowded footbridge linking the east and west campuses but instead of turning right toward the library, she turned left and took off across the wide lawn standing between the buildings and the bluffs overlooking West beach and the yacht harbor. She stopped at the low wooden fence at the edge of the cliff and gazed out at the Pacific.
“You gotta believe me,” I said. “I didn’t say those things. They were all lies.”
She stared at the water. I wanted to wrap an arm around her shoulders but kept my hands to myself.
“I swear. I did not say those things,” I repeated.
She turned her head a fraction of an inch my way. “Not according to Sandy.”
“First of all, I have no idea who this Sandy person is. Secondly, how would she have had access to confidential worksheets?”
Worksheets included the transcript of everything that was said in an auditing session.
“Sandy is a friend from AO. And anything uncovered in sec-checking is not confidential.”
“But that thing I got at Int Base was a confessional, not a sec-check. And confessionals are confidential. And since Sandy works in LA, she would have been nowhere near Int Base, which is way out in Hemet.”
Roxy shook her head and let out a stream of air. “There’s no difference between a confessional and a sec-check.”
“Okay. But how would she have had access to my worksheets?”
“Maybe they were sent to LA because it’s closer to Santa Barbara.”
“Even if that were the case, how did she come to read those worksheets? Like she just happened to see them and thought they might be interesting? I’ve never even met the girl. She wouldn’t have known who I was. It makes no sense that she just happened…”
“Someone could have shown the worksheets to her,” Roxy interrupted.
“Because they knew we were friends and wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into by associating with you.
“You know the truth about me! You know who I am! I would never have said those things about you. I swear.”
“So you’re saying someone made all that shit up?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying. Attack, attack, attack, by whatever means necessary. That’s what they do. Right? LRH, himself, said that lying about your enemies was perfectly okay. Not only that, he said the lies should be distributed to the media.”
Roxy turned back to the ocean. Three windsurfers flew back and forth off shore. Farther out in the channel, a fishing boat was making its way back to the harbor, its bow rising and falling through the chop. A half dozen surfers sat on boards off Leadbetter Point waiting for the next set.
“How would you know what LRH wrote,” she asked.
“I’ve been doing a little research,” I answered.
“It’s all on the Internet if you look hard enough. Though the truth is, you don’t even have to look very hard. It’s all right there. Access is dead easy.”
“Everything LRH wrote? All his policy letters?”
“Everything. Policy, tech, everything the guy ever wrote—including the OT Levels—are out there for everybody to read.”
“Including the OT Levels? They’re confidential. You didn’t read them, did you?”
I shrugged. “Was hard not to. So yeah, I read them.”
Instead of asking me what I thought about this restricted “technology,” she turned back to the ocean.
“Listen,” I said. “I knew they were confidential. But so what? It’s not like either of us is involved in Scientology anymore. So why not? Nothing bad happened. It’s not like I suddenly developed cancer and died.” As LRH had hinted would happen to people who didn’t follow his space opera technology on a proscribed gradient.
“Not yet, anyway,” Roxy smirked.
“Don’t worry. I feel great; I’m not gonna die. Anytime soon, anyway. These OT levels seemed completely whacky to me. Like total science fiction. I can hardly believe anyone would fall for that kind of shit. Like on OT Three…”
“Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know.”
I jerked back, hands out. “Okay. My lips are sealed. And by the way, I like the pink streak in your hair.”
“Cindy and I decided to change things up. We did a blue one for her.”
I nodded. Aside from getting down on my knees, I didn’t know what else to do to convince her I was innocent. Farther out in the channel, closer to the islands, a cargo ship sailed north. I glanced over my shoulder at the sound of barking. A border collie tore across the lawn after a tennis ball.
I turned back to Roxy. “Do you believe me?”
She took a deep breath. And then another. And then said, “It was really hurtful. The things that were said in that text.”
“I can only imagine,” I replied. “Just know that I didn’t say any of it.”
“That anyone would say those things about me…” She shook her head. Then, “Just so you know, I didn’t want to believe you’d actually done those things. Like the thing about your dog…Ginger.”
I laughed. “Like I told Dev, I loved that dog. Just not in that way.”
Roxy grinned—the first time she’d come close to a smile in ages. As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished. “Those things that were written about me…and us having…” she shook her head.
“All lies,” I said. “You gotta know, I would never say any of those things about you. And just for the record, I don’t think you look like a boy. I happen to like your body very much—just the way it is.”
“Your chest is practically bigger than mine.”
“Believe me, yours is big enough. And remember, I’ve seen you in your underwear. So I’ve seen the whole package.”
“Not the whole package,” she muttered.
I hoped that would change. Sooner than later. “So, can we be friends again? Because I gotta be honest with you, this has been killing me. I haven’t been able to sleep. All I can think about is you. And that text. And…”
“This whole thing has been pretty fucked up and I haven’t been real happy myself.”
“I’d love it if you moved back to the Little House. All your stuff is still there.”
“You didn’t give it all away to the Salvation Army?”
“I bagged everything up and left it on the front porch. They’re supposed to pick it up Monday.”
Roxy laughed. Yay! “Luckily, Cindy and I are about the same size so it hasn’t been a problem. Still, we were planning on sneaking back and grabbing my stuff when you were gone.”
I took one of her hands in mine. She didn’t look at me but she didn’t pull away either. We just stood there gazing out at all the different vessels playing in the Pacific. I wanted to wrap her up in my arms. And kiss her. Badly.
“Need a ride home?” I asked.
“Cindy is picking me up later.”
“We could call her and tell her I’m giving you a ride?”
“What about you moving back to the Little House?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“I just need my space, Rick. Everything is so new and is happening so fast. You gotta remember, I’ve never lived outside of Scientology before. So this…” She swept her arm around in an arc. “This is all just so…so…different. It takes time to process everything. Santa Barbara, school, work, life. You.”
“I just need time.”
Deep breaths didn’t stop my stomach from jumping off the cliff.
Roxy glanced at her cell. “I should get going. Cindy will be here any minute. I’ll swing by in the next day or two for my clothes.”
I sat down on the top rung of the fence and watched her walk across the wide expanse of lawn toward the library. A golden retriever tore after the ball along with the Border collie. He never stood a chance.
Dev and I were sitting on the couch in the Little House playing Game of Honor. A half-eaten bag of potato chips sat to the right of the monitor. A half-eaten bag of Doritos sat on the left.
“Dude, you suck today,” Dev said, finessing his controller first one way, then the other. “In fact, you’ve sucked for the last few weeks.”
I leaned back and rolled my eyes. “What else is new?”
“Party tonight. Mountain Drive. Supposed to be a hot tub and a band.”
“Cindy and I are going,” he added. “You should come along.”
“Just come. It’ll do you good. And by the way, I didn’t notice any guys stacked out in front of your house today.”
“I think they’ve given up. Like what’s to see? I wake up; go to school; play barista for a few hours; and then come home.”
“Dude, you should definitely come to the party tonight.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“And what ever happened to Doug, that supervisor at the local org, who you thought might be a plant? You seen him?”
“Not for a couple of weeks.”
“He still working for Scientology?”
“As far as I know.”
“So he never left as he said he might?”
“Not that I know of. And I don’t really care one way or the other.”
“You think he was spying on you?”
“Probably. It’s what Scientology does. It’s their M.O.” I shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter, though.”
“And Detective Gardner, what about him?”
“Spoke with him last week. Nothing new. He thinks the DA won’t file charges but will leave things to Mr. Macias. Who’s hired some high-powered LA law firm that’s dealt with Scientology.”
“So you’re free and clear?”
“One way or the other, I’ll undoubtedly get sucked into court.”
“Worst case scenario, I’ll be sued along with the Church of Scientology. At the least, I’ll be called as a witness.”
“So one way or the other, you may be spending time on a witness stand.”
“Unless Mr. Macias and Scientology settle before it comes to trail. From the research I’ve done, though, they—the church—usually let cases drag on in court for years before the prosecution gives up or the two sides finally settle.”
“You could graduate before anything is resolved.”
I nodded as my avatar died in a hail of electric bullets. I tossed my controller on the couch.
“So,” Dev said, “about the party tonight. Pick you up?”
“I got my own car.”
“But will you use it?”
“I’ll think about it.”
I moped around the house most of the rest of the day. Went out to lunch with Dad. Studied. Took a nap. Studied. Ate Thai take-out with the family in the Main house. Around seven, I received a text from Dev with the address of the party. Around nine, I checked a few social media sites. A lot of people I knew were going or were already there. Around ten, I jumped in the car and drove south.
Cars were lined up on both sides of Mountain Drive and I had to park a quarter mile away. The closer I got to the party, the louder the music became and the more discarded red cups I began to see on the side of the road. I needed an address to find the party like a dog needed a GPS unit to follow a wounded skunk. By the time I stepped onto the property I felt the heavy base coursing through my body. I squeezed through the throng of people leading up to the wide front door and went inside.
Like many of the houses on Mountain Drive, the barn-like structure had been built before the days of modern building codes. A kitchen and large rough-hewn table took up most of the left side of the great room. Mismatched chairs, couches, Oriental rugs, shoulder-to-should people, and the band took up most of the other half. Dim lights hung from the rafters. Party goers spilled out the wide French doors into the back yard. Halfway through the crowd I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Rick! How are you?” Janice slurred, beer sloshing over the rim of her red cup.
“Hey, Janice,” I said.
“Cool party, huh?” She didn’t seem to mind I hadn’t answered her question.
“Very cool.” I scanned the room for signs of Dev or Cindy—hopeful that the latter’s houseguest would be with them.
“Want to jump in the hot tub?”
“Not too much later. Know what I mean?” she asked with half-closed eyes.
I knew what she meant. In another half hour she’d probably be passed out in the loft. I told her I’d catch her later and slipped through the mob.
I wasn’t much of a beer drinker but when in Rome… I made my way outside to the narrow backyard where I pulled a red cup from the stack beside the keg. I poured myself a beer and watched the bodies frolicking in the hot tub. Mostly I kept my eyes on the female contingent. Even the half-naked ones were…half naked.
I nursed my beer for the better part of an hour, chatting with this friend or that, before I spotted Dev saddling up to the keg. I called him over once he’d filled his cup.
“Hey! You came!” he said sitting down next to me on the stone bench.
“Been here about an hour. Where you been?”
“Dancing. Inside,” he said loudly. We had to face each other to be heard.
“Where’s Cindy?” I asked.
“Inside. Talking with friends.”
I nodded. “Ah…Roxy didn’t happen to come with you guys, did she?”
“She’s with Cindy. Said this was the first ‘Wog’ party she’s ever been to.”
“She having a good time?”
“To tell you the truth, I think she’s a little afraid.”
“Maybe I should go talk with her.”
“You’d be a fool not to, bro.”
I left my cup on the sandstone retaining wall and went inside. I spotted Cindy, Roxy, and three other girls standing around a big square, freestanding butcher block in the kitchen. I drifted that way, nodding and saying hi to people as I went. Not wanting to appear too anxious, I stopped at the long, dining room table for chips and dip, stealing glances at the kitchen every few bites.
Roxy looked like a cat at a dog show, her eyes darting back and forth, smiling—kind of—trying to blend-in. But not totally succeeding. She looked pretty nervous. That said, she was tough girl and didn’t need rescuing. So I stood there, munching chips, occasionally glancing at the way she filled out her jeans and sleeveless red tee shirt. Eventually, she caught my eye. I acknowledged her with a raised hand and weak smile. If she wanted to talk, she knew where I was.
I drifted to the side of the room and sat down on the end of what looked like an old church pew. I leaned back and stretched out my legs. The band took a break and the decibel level in the room plunged from deafening to loud. Two football players with thick necks carried a new keg through the room to the backyard. Half the people who’d been dancing followed. If Roxy saw me sitting on the bench, she didn’t let on when she and Cindy drifted outside.
Dev plopped down beside me. “Talked with Roxy, yet?”
“Not yet,” I replied.
“Going to? Because you probably should.”
“And why is that?”
“Because the girl is still into you.”
“And you know this how?”
“Because she’s always asking about you?”
“Well, not always but you know what I mean.”
Not really, no.
“So you should go talk with her, bro,” he added.
“Because since she broke up with you, you’ve been a real drag.”
“She didn’t break up with me…because we were never together.” But I had been a real drag.
“Just because you never sealed the deal doesn’t mean that you weren’t ‘together’. You guys share a pretty…” He paused for a sip of beer. “Atypical history.”
“That much is true.”
“So go talk with her and stop dicking around.”
I nodded and got to my feet.
Roxy and Cindy were sitting in a couple of faded, gray Adirondack chairs at the edge of the yard—as far from the action as they could get. Behind them, steps made of railway ties led up to a small grove of dark avocado trees. Beyond that, a wall of chaparral stretched up the mountainside. I’d never seen Roxy wearing lipstick before.
“Hey,” I said. “Anyone want to jump in the hot tub?”
They both glanced across the yard at the packed redwood tub.
“I didn’t bring my bathing suit and I’m definitely not stripping down with all these people around,” Cindy said. “That, and it’s too full. We wouldn’t fit.”
Roxy smiled and shook her head.
I smiled back. “I wasn’t all that serious, anyway.” Not that I wouldn’t have joined them had they said yes.
I turned to Roxy. “So…how’s it been going?”
“Done well on all my quizzes. Got an A on my last History paper. It’s not as hard as I thought it’d be.”
“You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for.”
“I’m gonna go find Dev,” Cindy said standing up. “Catch you guys later.”
I sat down in the vacated chair.
“Those guys still staking out the Little House?” Roxy asked.
“Haven’t seen em in a couple of weeks.”
“They probably just planted hidden cameras all over the property instead.”
“Wouldn’t put it past them.”
“And what about your lawyer, Connolly, and Detective Gardner? Talked with them lately.”
I recounted my latest conversations with the two and then asked her if she wanted a beer.
“No thanks,” she replied.
“Just out of curiosity, have you ever had a drink before?”
“I assume you mean an alcoholic drink.”
I gestured toward the keg on the other side of the yard.
“No thanks,” she said. “It not that I won’t ever drink alcohol. I’ll try it sometime in the future. Just not right now.”
“A lot going on.”
She nodded. “On one hand, I worked harder and longer hours in the SO. On the other, there was a huge amount of stuff I wasn’t responsible for and didn’t have to worry about.”
“Such as when to wake up. When to go to bed. When and what to eat. Money. Just about everything. I always had a senior telling me what to do. Except for minor shit, I rarely had to decide about things on my own. Besides once or twice a month for a few hours every weekend—like to wash clothes and shit—I didn’t have any spare time. I didn’t have to think about where to be or what to do the next day. I never had to plan for the future. I just followed orders.”
“Now I’m responsible for everything. Little stuff. Big stuff. All of it. I don’t have anyone telling me what to do; ordering me around. I have to decide everything for myself. Seven days a week.”
“You get used to it. That said, everyone doesn’t have to do everything all by themselves.”
The band started back up and the people in the hot tub started swaying and waving their hands above their heads. Half the hands held red cups. One held a vape.
I held out a hand. “Care to dance?”
“Because you don’t want to dance or you don’t want to dance with me?”
“Because…just like drinking beer, it’s something I’ve never done before.”
“Everybody’s never danced at some point in their lives. Come on. Give it a try.”
I stood up and stepped in front of her. She glanced at my extended hand and then into my face. And then back down at the hand. She shook her head.
“Just follow my lead,” I said. “It’ll be fun.”
She sat there, frozen, until I finally reached down and pulled her to her feet. She offered no resistance. I hadn’t touched her in weeks and almost kissed her when she stumbled into me. I led her into the house. We stopped in front of the band, halfway through the press of gyrating bodies.
I had to shout to be heard. “Just do what I do.”
She nodded and glanced at my feet. I took both her hands in mine and started to move—much slower than the music warranted—back and forth, side to side, keeping my eyes on hers, making sure she was okay and not freaking out. I kept things simple. I made no sudden movements. I bent my knees and shuffled my feet—just flowing over the floor. A song or two later, we picked up the pace and I let go of her hands and let her move to her own rhythm. We left the grinding for another day.
I hadn’t heard the band play a slow song since I’d arrived at the party over an hour ago. Hopefully, they were saving a couple for later. I never had to make a request. At the end of the next song, one of guitarists exchanged his electric guitar for an acoustic and announced this was their last set and they were slowing things down. Boys glanced at girls; and girls glanced at boys. A few, like Roxy, stood nervously, wondering what happened next. A few drum beats into the ballad, I slipped my hands around her waist.
We drifted to the music in a lazy, circular pattern. After our second or third loop, she glanced up at me and rested her head against my chest. I rested a hand on her neck, just under the drape of her blonde hair. I didn’t let go when the music stopped and she didn’t try to escape.
A verse or two into the next slow song, she leaned her head back and looked at me. Maybe to see if I was enjoying the dance as much as she was. Maybe something else. I leaned down and kissed her. She closed her eyes and so did I and we remained locked that way as we drifted in slow circles. The music sounded distant and the other dancers had become less real.
I opened my eyes when the song ended and glanced at the band. The bassist thanked everyone for coming and they began to pack up their instruments. I draped an arm over Roxy and we walked outside to the backyard. The temperature had dropped and the air smelled of chaparral and beer. If possible, the hot tub was more crowded than before.
We walked across the party-littered lawn and climbed the steep steps leading into the avocado orchard. In a galaxy far, far away. Two rows in, the big trees enveloped us in darkness. We sat down on a bed of brown, crackly leaves. Neither of us had said a word since leaving the dance floor. No need. Touching was all that mattered. After a while, we fell over on our sides. Our lips stayed glued as we giggled and struggled to stay connected.
Sometime later, my cell buzzed in my pocket. I glanced at the text from force of habit.
“That was Dev asking if you needed a ride home,” I said.
“Unless I intend to spend the night here in the trees, a ride would be good,” Roxy said.
“I drove here by myself. I can give you a lift.”
I texted Dev that transportation was covered.
He replied with a winking, smiley-faced emoticon.
Roxy had already left for school when I heard the knock. I put down my chemistry text and crossed the room to the front door. The two guys standing on the porch looked right out of central casting. Both wore white shirts, dark ties, and crisp, black suits. The one in his forties held up a badge in front of my face. The one in his thirties stood back and watched. Their black shoes gleamed under the noonday sun.
“Jackson Turner, FBI,” the guy in charge said. He nodded at his partner. “This is my partner, Alston Moorcroft.”
Moorcroft held up his own badge but didn’t say anything. Maybe he was in training. He carried the briefcase.
“Are you Rick Lee?” Turner asked.
“May we come in?” he asked.
I figured they weren’t here for the lone joint stashed in my sock drawer. Pot was now legal in California. “Sure, come in.” Images of Joan and Bill Macias, Scientology, and Jupiter Donuts flashed through my mind.
I led Turner and Moorcroft to the kitchen table and gestured to a pair of chairs. Turner pulled out a small notepad out of his jacket after sitting down. Moorcroft pulled a laptop out of the briefcase and set it up on the table before joining us.
“First time I’ve seen a real FBI agent. In person,” I said. “Didn’t know Santa Barbara even had an office.”
Turner smiled. “We work out of Los Angeles.”
His thick neck and crewcut made me think he’d played football in college. Ivy League, most likely. He and Moorcroft had probably played at the same school—and had standing appointments with their old-school barbers back in LA.
“So…to what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked.
“We’re here regarding Scientology,” Turner answered.
My nerves started jangling like brass bells on a Christmas sleigh ride. I took a deep breath. “Are you here to arrest me?”
Turner smiled. “We’re just here to talk with you.”
“Detective Gardner is in charge of the Joan Macias case,” I said. “He knows everything.”
“Thanks. We’ve spoken with him.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Gathering information. We have a few questions. Mind if we record our conversation?”
“Should I have my lawyer present?”
“I don’t know. Should you?”
“I already told Detective Gardner everything I know,” I repeated. And he hadn’t arrested me.
“You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. Like I said, I’m just gathering information.”
Moorcroft typed away on the laptop.
My chest rose and fell like I’d main-lined a pot of high octane coffee.
“Tell me how you got involved in Scientology,” Turner asked. “Start at the beginning.”
Two hours later, he thanked me and the two left. My stomach had shriveled to the size of a walnut.
A couple of hours later, Roxy and I were sitting on the couch eating bowls of cheap macaroni and cheese. Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the open front door. I was glad we’d made two boxes.
“Okay, you’ve put food in your stomach,” she said. “Now tell me what happened. What did they want?”
“They’re bringing a lawsuit against Scientology,” I answered.
“The Justice Department.”
“And who are they?”
“A branch of the federal government charged with meting out justice.” I guessed.
“What’s the lawsuit about?”
“I’m not sure specifically. Just that it has to do with Scientology. Turner said they were still in the ‘gathering information’ phase.”
“Will this suit be about Joan?”
I shrugged. “He asked about her. And I told him everything I knew. But I’m not sure.”
“So moving dead bodies might just be one of a number of charges brought against the church.”
“Would you have to testify?”
“Would I have to, too?”
“Geeze, Rick. What do you know?”
“Not much, I admit. But how much is an FBI agent gonna reveal to a guy like me? All I know is that they’re gathering information for the Justice Department.”
“Who at some point in the future, may sue the Church of Scientology,” Roxy added.
“If everything comes together and they think they have a winnable case, I suppose so.”
“Where does this leave us?”
“Turner warned me not to talk with anyone about this. Especially anyone connected to Scientology.”
“But you just talked to me.”
“You don’t count. You’re my girlfriend.”
I squeezed her thigh. “What’d you think you were?”
I said, “Whatever they decide to do, probably won’t happen for a long time. Months, years, no way to know.”
“The wheels of justice don’t spin all that fast. And in the meantime, we just…what?”
“Go to school. Do what we’re doing.”
“What about Bill Macias and his civil suit?”
“Could be years, too. Most likely though, Scientology will buy him off before it ever gets to trial. In the meantime, we live our lives.”
“While we’re on the subject, have you heard from Doug, the course supervisor?”
“Not since we saw him way back when.”
“Is he still working at the local Santa Barbara Org?”
“As far as I know, he could have joined the Sea Org or be fishing for crab in Alaska.”
“So we don’t know if he was legit or not.”
I shook my head. “He might have really wanted to leave. Or…he could have been a spy. We might never know.”
“They could have transferred him to some remote org on the other side of the planet.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
Roxy set her bowl on the floor. “I wrote another blog post today.”
“About your life in the Sea Org? This is what? Your fourth or fifth article?”
“Fourth. Goes live this Saturday.”
“What’s it about?”
“You’re just gonna have to wait and read it online.”