The tenth installment of the first draft of a novel written by our old friend Terra Cognita. Our Sunday Serial.
Terra welcomes all suggestions and feedback — this is draft — you can note them in the comments.
“You’re both here. Good,” Gardner said, grabbing one of the kitchen chairs and pulling out his little notebook.
Dev and I sat on the couch.
“Got any news?” I asked.
“Been a bitch trying to get ahold of anyone in the church.”
“That would be the Church of Scientology, right?” Dev asked.
“That would be the one, yeah.”
“What about Brenda or Doug down at the local org?” I asked. “They could back up my story.” Or not.
“On vacation,” Gardner answered.
“That’s kind of a big coincidence, don’t you think?”
Gardner nodded. “I’ve never really believed in coincidences.”
“But there must be other guys at the org you can talk with,” Dev said.
“Not that know anything. And I’ve talked with all of em. Nobody knows anything.”
“You think they’re telling the truth?” I asked.
“Like I told you, only Brenda and Doug were around when…Joan passed away,” I said. “So it is possible the rest of the staff really don’t know anything. They might have been told a story. Like Joan was called away on an emergency, or something like that. They might not even know she’s…gone.”
Gone? Passed away? Why hadn’t I just said “died?”
Gardner nodded. “Brenda and Doug were the only local staff there at the time, right? You’re sure nobody else was around?”
“Except for the three Sea Org guys who showed up later, Brenda and Doug were the only two.”
“Well…it’s not like I searched the building before I left.”
“Then there could have been others there that day.”
“I guess. But most of the staff just work there at night. I’m pretty sure they all have day jobs. Like to pay the bills. I don’t think Scientology pays its staff all that much. And in a place like Santa Barbara where the rents are sky high…”
Gardner flipped the page of his notebook and scribbled something else before looking up. “And what about the people working at Int Base out in Hemet? Who out there would know?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know who actually knows the whole story. A lot of guys saw me, but I don’t know if any of em were told why I was there.”
“Nobody at all?”
“Well…the MAA,” I said. “The Master at Arms out there. He knew what was going on.”
“He got a name?”
“Guy Sephardic. Young guy. Not older than twenty.”
“And Roxy Brand? She knows everything, right?”
“Definitely. I told her everything.”
“She got an address and phone number?”
I shook my head. “As far as I know, she’s down at Pac Base—Pacific Base—on L. Ron Hubbard Way in Los Angeles. She doesn’t have a cell phone.”
“She’s one of those Sea Org people, right?”
Gardner chuckled. “I’m sure trying to reach her by phone would be an exercise in futility.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I haven’t spoken to her since she left.”
“She leave on her own volition?”
“Two Sea Org guys picked her up here at the house. Convinced her to go with em.”
“You were there?”
I nodded. “She wasn’t forced. Like not physically. It was her decision to leave.”
“So she was happy she left?”
No. “What difference would it make?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Just gathering data. So was she happy?”
I shook my head. “She thought she didn’t have a choice. Like she was a Sea Org member and it was her duty to go back. That…and she’s been in Scientology her whole life. Her parents are Scientologists. All her friends are Scientologists. She doesn’t know anything else.”
“You think she would rather have stayed here with you?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Probably… I don’t know. Like I said, she doesn’t know anything else outside the church.”
“You think she’d corroborate your story?”
“She only knows what I told her. She wasn’t there when Joan died.”
“Might she have talked with other Sea Org people about what happened?”
“It’s possible. They’re a pretty clothed-mouth group, though.” I took a deep breath. “Speaking of what happened, you heard back from the coroner, yet?”
“Got the report back yesterday.”
“So…what’d it say?”
“In other words, a heart attack,” Dev said.
Gardner nodded. “No doubt brought on by all those vitamins and shit she was taking and from sitting in a frikken sauna for five hours a day. A woman like that…” He shook his head. “She never should have been on that program in the first place. Not in the shape she was in.”
“You think a crime was committed?” Dev asked. “Like someone could be arrested and go to jail?”
“That’s for the DA to decide. I’m just a lowly cop.”
“Just the same, thanks for being up front with us,” I said.
“Can’t see any reason why not to be. I be upfront with you. You be upfront with me.” He paused and stared into my eyes. “You have been upfront with me, haven’t you, Rick?”
“Totally,” I said. “Everything I’ve told you is the truth.”
He smiled. “I appreciate you talking to me without your lawyer.”
“You know I have a lawyer?”
“I’m a detective. Remember?”
“So what now?” I asked.
“Good question, kid.” Just before closing the door on his way out, he turned and said, “You left town once before. Let’s not make it a habit. Plan on sticking around.”
The moment Detective Gardner left, I fired up my laptop and went to Marvin Brander’s website, The Real Story of Scientology. Five people had responded to my plea for help. Three had spent time on the RPF at Pac Base back when they’d still been inside the church. One said she’d been on the rehabilitation force for over three years. All of them said the experience had been hell.
“ClearlynotClear” wrote that the food had been horrible and she’d been lucky to get three or four hours of sleep at night. “RPF members are required to run everywhere they go, too,” she’d added.
“OTright?” said that RPF members often worked outside. General maintenance, gardening, and painting were common tasks. “If you just cruise around the complex you’re bound to see her,” he wrote.
I glanced up at Dev. “That seems like the thing to do. Just cruise around until I spot her.”
“And honk when you see her? Speed over to the curb and call out for her to jump in the car?” he asked.
“Unless you got a better idea.”
He shook his head.
“I’m thinking the sooner the better,” I said. “Like maybe even drive down there tonight.”
“You’d have a much better chance at seeing her tomorrow morning. It’d be light and she wouldn’t be asleep in some random building miles away. Cindy and I could come with you.”
“You don’t have to come,” I said.
“No, I want to. I’d kinda be fun. Like see what this complex looks like. And besides, nobody’s ever seen my face before. Nobody but Roxy would recognize me.”
I nodded. “Maybe. And by the way, how close exactly are you and Cindy? Like you guys doing it?”
“Uh… I don’t know. I mean… I do like her. And yes, we are doing it. But we’re not official, if you know what I mean.”
“Like you’re not exclusive.”
“Right. Although I kinda am.”
“I haven’t been with anyone else since we’ve been together if that’s what you mean.”
“And what about Cindy?”
“I don’t think she has either. That said, it’s not like either one of us have used the B or G words.”
“Boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Dev stood up. “So tomorrow morning then? We drive to LA?”
I was glad for the company. “Sounds good. Your car or mine?”
“I’ll drive so you can be on the lookout,” he said.
Dev and I were creeping along in LA rush hour traffic on the 101. The bright sun had just risen above the windshield and fast food wrappers littered the floor at my feet.
“Want the rest of my coffee?” I asked from the passenger seat.
“Sure,” he said.
I passed him what was left of my grande Pike and then turned down the music.
“The bummer is, there’s no parking on L. Ron Hubbard Way,” I said. “So we’ll have to park in one of their lots or on one of the side streets.”
All the main Scientology buildings fronted L. Ron Hubbard Way on the block-long, brick-paved street. The last time I’d been there, I’d seen lots of RPF members in black jumpsuits running around trimming bushes, washing windows, and picking up trash.
Dev turned to me. “Sure hope we find her.”
“I just hope they haven’t shipped her off to Int Base. No way could we get inside there.” Not without going back over the fence. Or cutting through it.
We merged onto the Hollywood Freeway, and five or six exits later, got off on Sunset Boulevard. A mile later, we turned right onto L. Ron Hubbard Way. Except for a few SO members walking around like they had someplace important to go, the sidewalks were empty. Two parties of people sat at tables on the café patio outside across the street of AO—Advanced Org. A Scientology security officer rolled up the street on a black mountain bike. According to our dashboard clock, it was ten A.M. Either Roxy was still asleep or scrubbing tile floors with a toothbrush. Dev hung a right at the end of the block.
“You’re right,” he said. “We can’t park on L. Ron Hubbard Way. We could however park in the big lot at the top of the block.”
It’s kinda deserted,” I said. “Like we’ll be pretty noticeable just sitting there in the car. Might be better if we parked on the street.”
“Except there’s no place to park. And if even we did find a spot, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to see Roxy.”
“We could just circle the block.”
“And you don’t think someone would finally notice us? Like one of those security guys on the bikes?”
“Dude, we gotta find someplace inconspicuous.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no place to hide around here. So why don’t we just park in the parking lot and pretend we’re waiting for someone?”
“I suppose it can’t hurt.”
Dev parked at the top of the lot near Sunset, facing toward L. Ron Hubbard Way. We rolled down the windows and leaned back in our seats. We didn’t see Roxy and no one accosted us. For the first forty minutes.
A young SO member crossed the lot to our car and bent down until his face was level with mine.
“Hi. My name is Jesus. Can I help you?” he asked in Spanish-accented English.
“Just waiting for a friend,” I answered.
“Are you Scientologists?”
“No. Like I said, we’re just waiting for a friend.”
“Why don’t you wait inside where it’s cool? I’ll get you some water and show you around.” He nodded at the big blue building at the south side of the parking lot.
“It is no trouble at all.” He smiled widely. “Come on, we have lots of cold water.”
“If it’s all the same to you, we’ll just wait here,” I said.
He nodded. “What is the name of your friend?”
“Sid Jet,” Dev answered.
“Is he a student at LA Org?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Well…course is not out until twelve o’clock.” He glanced at his watch. “Which is not for another hour. Come with me. I will introduce you to Dianetics. The science of the mind. Have you read the book?”
Dev and I shook our heads.
“Come with me, then. I guarantee, you will be impressed with what you see.”
“Maybe later,” I said. “Like after Sid shows up.”
“And we grab some lunch,” Dev added.
“Okay,” Jesus said. “Then maybe you can you help me while you wait. Wait here. I will be right back.” He crossed the lot and went inside LA Org.
“Fuck this guy,” Dev said.
“He is persistent,” I said.
“You think we should move?”
“And go where? We have the greatest chance of spotting Roxy if we stay here.”
“Shit. Here he comes.”
“Hi guys,” Jesus said. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind filling out these OCAs for me.”
“OCAs?” Dev asked.
“Oxford Capacity Analysis. It is designed to locate exactly what it is that needs improving in your life. You simply answer the questions. That is all there is to it.” He passed two clipboards through the window. We were hardly in a position to refuse.
“Whoa,” Dev said. “There’re two hundred questions.”
“I know!” Jesus said. “This is what makes it so accurate. You will see. It will blow your mind! You just answer ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe’.” He pulled two stubby pencils out of a pocket and shoved them through the window.
I glanced at Dev and then back at Jesus. “Alright then, thanks. We’ll get right on these.”
“I will come back in twenty minutes.” He turned and walked back to LA Org.
“I’m not filling out this shit,” Dev said.
“Unless we want to get kicked out of the parking lot, we should fill these things out. Like it can’t do any harm.”
Dev thumbed through the questions. “Well, it’s not like we have anything better to do.”
Fifty questions in, five haggard-looking middle-aged guys in black coveralls jogged around the corner of the big blue building on the right. Two carried trash cash. The other three carried rakes and hoes.
“I’m pretty sure those guys are on the RPF,” I said.
“They look like shit,” Dev said.
“I think that’s the whole idea. Like beat em down until they can be molded into good little Sea Org members.”
“Kinda like being in boot camp in the military. Unfortunately, Roxy isn’t part of the group, dude.”
“So we wait until she shows up.”
The RPF guys put down their trash cans and got to work. Two guys trimmed the short hedge surrounding the parking lot; two guys weeded; the last guy raked shit up. They worked fast and none of them looked around while they worked. I didn’t envy them working in black coveralls under the hot sun. None of them wore hats.
Jesus showed up a few minutes later. Dev and I each had another hundred questions to do. Dev and I weren’t as efficient as the six RPFers.
“I want to make sure I answer everything accurately,” Dev said.
“Me, too,” I said.
Jesus thanked us for being so “thorough” and told us he’d be back in another twenty minutes. Ten minutes after he left Roxy and two other women in black coveralls crossed L. Ron Hubbard Way and went inside one of the big blue buildings.
“Holy shit! That’s her,” I said, pointing in her direction.
“You sure, bro?” Dev asked.
“Totally. It was her for sure.”
“What’s that building she went inside?”
I shook my head. “Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care. We just gotta be ready when she comes out.”
“How the fuck we gonna do that with Jesus all over us?”
“I think one of us is gonna have to wait in front of the building she went inside while the other does the OCA thing with him.”
“I should be the one to wait outside the building. Like I’ll pretend to be on the phone,” Dev said. “You deal with Jesus.”
“What if she stays inside for hours, though? You can’t just stand outside on L. Ron Hubbard Way pretending to talk.”
“It’s an important call, dude. Got lots to discuss. So when Jesus comes back, you go with him. I’ll say I gotta wait for Sid. I’ll call you when Roxy and I get back to the car.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Unless you got a better idea.”
I shook my head.
“You’re gonna have to haul ass when I call you,” Dev said. “Like there may be Sea Org guys after us or something like that. So the second I call you, you come running. Don’t even answer.”
“You sure I shouldn’t be the one to wait for Roxy and you do the OCA thing with Jesus?”
“Dude, we’ve been over this. You’ve been here before. If someone recognizes you, it could blow the whole thing.”
Ten minutes later, Jesus strode purposely across the lot. Fifteen minutes after that I was sitting across a desk from test evaluator, Larry, in an office in LA Org listening to him tell me what was ruining my life—according to the OCA I’d just completed. Considering I’d randomly filled in the answers without reading the questions, I was pretty fucked up. Every two seconds, I glanced down at the cell in my hand. I wondered what I’d do if Roxy stayed inside for another hour or two. Or three or four. One thing for sure, I wasn’t starting a course at LA Org.
“So…what do you say we get you started?” Larry said.
I jerked my head up. “Ah, what?”
“Let’s get you started on the Success to Communication Course and handle your problem at interacting with others.”
“Sounds good,” I lied. “I’ll be in tomorrow morning. Nine A.M., right?”
“Right. Morning session runs from nine to twelve. But let’s get you started right now.”
I shook my head. “Can’t. Got other things to do.”
Larry shook his head. And frowned. And said, “I’d be committing a crime if I let you walk out the door right now without starting.”
“Is that right?”
“Your reactive mind doesn’t want you to get better, Rick. It’s your reactive mind telling you to leave. Listen, I’ll be honest with you. Most people that leave at this point don’t come back. And you know why? It’s not because they don’t want to handle what’s ruining their lives. It’s because of that part of their minds resistant to change. You see, the reactive mind thinks doing anything to lessen its hold over you is counter-survival. So it’ll do anything to maintain the status quo.” Larry pointed to my graph. “You see all these points here below the line. You need to handle these, Rick. If you don’t…” He shook his head.
“I hear you Larry,” I replied. “But seriously, I just don’t have the time right now. I have other things I gotta do.”
“I gotta be at work.”
“Where do you work?”
“Tell em you can’t make it today. You’re not feeling well.”
“Nah… Wouldn’t be right. I can’t blow em off like that.”
“Okay, then let’s at least get you enrolled. You don’t have to actually start the course right now.”
“Tomorrow,” I said.
“Let’s do it now.”
Larry was a persistent fucker.
My cell vibrated in my hand. I glanced down at the screen. Text from Dev. I tapped the icon with my thumb. He’d written, “Think I spotted her!”
I stood up and looked at Larry. “Sorry, man, gotta run. They need me right now.”
“Right. But don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Okay, but before you go, let’s sign you up. It won’t take long. Just a few minutes.”
I stepped toward the door. “I’d really like to but I just don’t have the time. Tomorrow.”
Larry skipped around his desk and followed me out the door. “Come on, Rick. This will only take a few seconds. And then you can go. Make the commitment to handle what’s ruining your life. Make the commitment to free yourself.”
I paused outside in the parking lot and looked around. Fuck. No sign of Dev. No sign of Roxy. Larry followed me across the parking lot to our car. I turned around at the driver-side door.
“See you tomorrow, Larry,” I said.
“Tell you what, Rick,” he said. “At least pay me for the course now. Make the commitment.”
I looked over his shoulder, looking for Dev and Roxy. I wished Larry would disappear. “Tomorrow,” I said.
He frowned and shook his head. “Let’s do it now.”
“Fuckin-A, Larry. I said I just didn’t have the time.”
“I know what you said, Rick. And I know that’s your reactive mind talking. It’s not the real you. I know you want to change. You want to get better. You want to become the person you’ve always dreamed of becoming. I know you do. So at least pay for course. Make the commitment. Do the right thing.”
“All I have is twenty bucks,” I said.
“You have a credit card?”
“No,” I lied.
“Okay, then, pay me the twenty bucks. You can pay the rest when you come back tomorrow.”
Anything to get the guy to leave. I pulled out my wallet, trying not to let him see the red Visa card sticking halfway out of one of the front pockets. Or the other twenties, tens, and fives in the main sleeve. Larry leaned in for a better look. I pulled back and carefully extracted a twenty. I quickly folded the wallet in half and stuffed it back in my pocket. I handed the money to Larry.
He took the twenty and said, “Sure you can’t pay for everything right now?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” I pulled on the door handle, thankful that Dev hadn’t locked the car.
I slid in behind the wheel and pretended to adjust the seat and mirror before sticking the key in the ignition. Larry didn’t move. And I didn’t have a key. I clipped in my seat belt. Larry watched, as if I might change my mind and follow him back to the org. If I’d had a key I would have pulled out of the lot and circled the block. But I didn’t. So I sat there. Waiting for Larry to walk away. The car felt like an oven.
I glanced down L. Ron Hubbard Way. I didn’t see anyone except a handful of SO members dressed in white shirts and black slacks walking from one org to another. No sign of Dev. No sign of Roxy. Fucking Larry stared through the window at me. I wiped at the sweat trickling down my cheek.
I pulled out my cell and texted Dev. No response. The car was so hot, the heat had probably melted the chip. I surveyed the lot. Didn’t see anyone. Except Fucking Larry who was trying to read what I’d typed. I finally cracked the door.
“Something you need, Larry?” I asked.
“Just ever hopeful you’ll change your mind and get started on your course.”
I rolled my eyes. Fucking Larry. “Not today, man.”
Fucking Larry smiled.
I was still sitting in the car—with Fucking Larry standing outside—when I spotted Dev and Roxy sprinting up L. Ron Hubbard Way followed seconds later by four guys in black coveralls. I stepped out of the car, high on adrenalin.
Fucking Larry said, “Ah, you’ve come to your senses. Great. Let’s get started.”
I didn’t answer. Had other things on my mind. Fifty yards separated Dev and Roxy from where I stood. I couldn’t think of what to do but stand there and wait for them to arrive. The youngest of the SO guys—the only one without white hair—was closing the gap.
Fucking Larry glanced over his shoulder to see what had grabbed my attention. “What the fuck?” he muttered.
The SO guy in front yelled, “Stop her!”
I said, “Step aside, Larry.”
“What the fuck?” he repeated.
I opened the back door for Roxy, ready to shove Fucking Larry aside. Five yards before she reached the car, young guy grabbed her collar and yanked her to the ground. I ran over and shoved him off of her while Dev jumped behind the wheel. The young guy latched onto my ankle. I kicked him in the face with my free leg. Blood spurted from his nose. The other three SO members arrived. One of them grabbed Roxy. I stepped over and slugged him in the stomach—the first time I’d ever laid a hand on someone my dad’s age. He doubled over and retched.
Roxy clawed at the hands of the lone SO woman who’d grabbed ahold of her ponytail and was dragging her back. I made an exception in my life about hitting a woman and punched her in the side of the head. She released Roxy’s hair and fell back. Startled. As if she couldn’t believe someone had hit her. Probably the first time in her life.
“Get in the car, Roxy!” I shouted.
Fucking Larry stood between her and it. Another pod of black-clad RPF members had appeared on the other side of the parking lot and was trotting toward us.
Dev started the car and popped the trunk. “Grab the tire iron!” he yelled.
I ran around in back but didn’t see anything but two crumbled beach towels. I noticed a small panel on the side. A car jack and tire iron fell out when I twisted the knob. I grabbed the iron and turned to face the crowd.
Broken nose guy sat on the ground holding his hands over his face, blood leaking through his fingers. Another of the other SO guys was trying to yank open one of the back doors. Where Roxy sat staring out the window. The other two SO guys stood off to the side. Apparently not wanted to tangle with me and my tire iron.
“Get the fuck away from the door,” I shouted.
He glanced at me and my weapon and stepped back. Just as the other half dozen SO arrived from across the lot. I swung the tire iron back and forth as I sidestepped around the car to the front passenger door. A tall, blonde guy lunged at me as I reached for the handle. I chopped down on one of his outstretched arms. I heard the sound breaking bone.
Another dove from my legs. I cracked him atop the head. Heard the sound of breaking bone. He slumped to the ground. The rest of them had formed a semicircle around me. I stood with my back to the door waving the tire iron back and forth. I reached back for the door handle with my free hand.
As I pulled the door open, a stocky guy kicked it shut with big black boots. I struck at him with the tire iron as he leaned back. Just missed his knee. I pulled the door open again and maneuvered my body between it and the interior of the car. Black boot guy lunged at me headfirst like some football linebacker, his head hitting me square in the chest. I smashed the tire iron down on his back. And then the back of his head. I kicked him out to the pavement and jumped onto the front seat.
Two others held the door wide open. Another lay sprawled on the front hood, hanging onto the windshield wipers. Dev gunned the car forward and then slammed on the brakes. The two guys holding onto the door flew forward and tumbled onto the asphalt. The guy on the hood ripped off the wipers as he catapulted over the bumper. Dev yanked the wheel to the left and the door shut by itself as we raced across the parking lot. We careened out of the lot and turned left on Sunset. A few miles later, we jumped on the 101 heading north.
Dev, Roxy, and I were sitting in a diner in Thousand Oaks a couple of blocks off the freeway. Dev and I were working on two platters of huevos rancheros. Roxy had devoured her pancakes and was picking at my beans and rice. None of us had said more than a dozen a words since fleeing Pac Base.
“Holy shit,” Dev said. “That was totally unreal.”
I nodded. Roxy nodded.
“I had no idea they used physical force.” He glanced across the table at Roxy. “Like they were gonna drag you back to wherever and do…” He shrugged.
I nodded. Roxy nodded.
“So now what?” Dev asked.
I turned to Roxy. “Now you get on with your life.”
“Whatever that is,” she said.
“You can stay with me in the Little House. And go to school. And go to movies. And do what real people do.”
She glanced down at her empty plate. “I guess.”
“Unless you got another plan.”
She shook her head.
“You’re totally okay to stay with me. Really. It’s not a problem.” I took a breath. “I want you to stay with me.”
The waitress came by, refilled our coffees and left the bill.
“I don’t have much of a choice,” Roxy said. “You two are the only ones I know. On the outside, that is. I’ve been in Scientology my whole life. I don’t know anything else.”
“You’re young. You’re smart. You’ll adapt,” I said. I sounded like a guidance counselor. “You have your GED. You can go to City College. You made the right decision to leave.”
“I already told you my GED means shit.”
“Doesn’t matter. They test you before you start classes and you can do remedial courses to makeup whatever you don’t know.”
“And if I don’t want to go to College?”
“Then you don’t have to. You could get a job and do something else.”
“I want to be a chef,” she said. Out of the clear blue.
“City College has a cooking school,” Dev said. “Or you could go to some dedicated cordon bleu-type school.”
“Not sure what it means exactly. Only that it has to do with fine dining and where chefs go to learn how to be chefs.”
“How much does that cost?”
“No idea. But they probably offer scholarships. Most colleges do.”
“For wayward ex-Sea Org girls?”
“I think they got a special category just for runaways.”
We paid the bill and left. Doug, Brenda, and three guys I recognized as local Scientology staff members were waiting for us at the Little House when we got back to Santa Barbara.
Dev pulled over and stopped a block from the Little House while he, Roxy, and I stared at the five Scientologists standing in my driveway. One of the guys, Tom, I thought his name was, flicked a cigarette butt to the pavement.
“Fucking litterer,” I muttered.
“What do you want to do?” Dev asked.
“Might as well get this over with and go talk with em.”
“We could call the cops?”
“They’re just standing there. They’re not exactly breaking the law.”
“They’d just step onto the sidewalk.” I turned to Roxy. “You okay with talking to em?”
“Might as well get this over with and go talk with em,” she repeated.
Dev coasted down the street and pulled into the driveway, forcing the five intruders to step to the side. Brenda stood in front of the gate leading to the back yard and the front door of the Little House. The three of us got out of the car and walked up Brenda.
“What do you say we go back to the Org and talk,” she said.
“We can talk right here,” I replied. “No way are we going to the Org.”
She nodded, as if she’d expected the response. “Might be less conspicuous if we went inside, then. The neighbors and all.”
I glanced at Dev and Roxy.
Dev shrugged. “Be more comfortable than standing around out here.”
“But just you Brenda,” I said. “Nobody else.”
“We’re not here to hurt anyone,” she said. “We’re just here to talk.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine just by yourself. It’s you or nobody.”
She glanced at Doug, Tom, and the two others. “You guys wait here.”
We went inside. Dev, Roxy, and I took the couch, leaving one of the kitchen chairs for Brenda. I’d left the front door open for fresh air. And for whatever.
“Okay. So here we are, Brenda. Talk,” I said.
She turned to Roxy. “You’re Sea Org. You signed a contract. You need to go back.”
Roxy didn’t respond. Dev and I remained silent.
“You’re just making things worse by blowing,” she continued.
“Blowing” in Scientology meant leaving without authorization. According to L. Ron Hubbard, people blew because of their overts and withholds—all the bad things they’d done. Blowing never had anything to do with the organization.
I shook my head. “Never gonna happen.”
Brenda raised her eyes at Roxy.
“I’m not going back,” she said.
“That’s your bank talking. Not you. You know what the right thing to do is: return to Pac Base and the SO.”
“So you say,” I said.
Brenda glanced my way. “Roxy and I have been in Scientology much longer than you. We’ve studied the tech. We understand the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics.”
“What the fuck are dynamics?” Dev asked.
“LRH divided up life into eight categories. Urges to survive he called em,” I said. “The first dynamic has to do with you as an individual. The second has to do with family and boyfriends and girlfriends and shit. The third has to do with groups. The fourth, mankind. And so on. The best decisions presumably take into account all the dynamics.”
“So taking into account all these so-called dynamics, the best decision according to Brenda here would be for Roxy to return to the SO, right?”
“Exactly,” Brenda said. “That is precisely the best decision. So what do you say, Roxy?”
Roxy shook her head.
“Guess that answers that,” Dev said.
Brenda turned her attention back to the girl sitting between Dev and me. “Don’t make this any worse than it has to be. You stay here with Rick, you go down with him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Roxy asked.
“It means that the cops have been asking around about the death of his Purif twin, Joan. He could be charged with her death. He…”
“Bullshit!” I exploded. “You’re the one who ordered the body to be moved. And I didn’t kill her. I didn’t cause her death. She died of a heart attack. Pure and simple.”
Maybe simple, maybe not so pure.
“You were with her the whole time,” Brenda said. As if that explained my “complicity.”
“It still doesn’t change the fact of how she died,” I said.
“No it doesn’t. And it doesn’t change the fact that Roxy should return to Pac Base.”
“I’m not going back,” Roxy said. “That’s all there is to it.”
“There’s no need for you to throw your life away, Roxy. Which is what you’ll be doing if you stay here and don’t return.”
Two middle-aged guys walked in the door. Uninvited. I could tell by their uniforms that they were Sea Org. Suddenly, the teams were evenly divided: three against three—not counting the local guys standing outside in the back yard.
“Afternoon,” the one in front said. His name tag read, “Petty Officer, Burgess Hanson.”
His parents must have been high when they’d named him. “Petty officer” sounded like some sort of navel rank.
“We’ll take it from here, Brenda. We’re here to escort Roxy back to base,” he said. His gaze shifted to me. “You need to come with us, too.”
“Good luck with that,” I replied.
I pulled out my phone. Everyone stared at me while I texted.
Once I’d finished, Hanson said, “Let’s go. Both of you.”
“Now,” he said.
I slipped my fingers through Roxy’s.
“Don’t make this any worse. Let’s go,” he said.
“We’ve already been over all this,” I responded. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“And we’re not leaving until we settle this. Until you agree to come with us.”
Roxy looked up from her lap. “I’m done with the SO. I’m staying here.”
“I got that,” Petty Officer, Hanson said. “But you need to route out the right way.”
“Route out?” Dev said. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“When a staff member leaves Scientology, they’re supposed to go these procedures,” Roxy answered. “Like they have to get sec-checked. Short for security checked. Which is basically telling someone all the bad shit you committed while a Scientologist.”
“What the fuck difference would that make?”
“LRH said people leave a relationship—business or personal—due to all the bad shit they committed against that organization or person. Since man is basically good, he leaves so as not to go on hurting the people he’s connected to.”
“That’s what LRH wrote and what Scientologists believe.”
“But what if this person you’re connected to is a real dick? Or you find out the organization you’re part of is some kind of neo-Nazi-type of group?” Dev smirked and shook his head. “What then? You’re still supposed to do this sec-checking thing?”
“There is no more ethical organization on the planet than the Church of Scientology,” Hanson said. “Nobody does more good than we do. So don’t try comparing us to a bunch of neo-Nazis.”
I snickered. “You trap people. Hold them hostage. Brainwash em.”
“You’ve been listening to too much psych-run media. They hate it when we’re winning and will do anything they can to make sure we fail. Most everything out of their mouths is a lie.”
His lines sounded rehearsed. Like he was repeating what he’d read from a company HR manual.
I laughed. “And you know this because of all the research you’ve done? Because of all the time you spend listening to the radio and surfing the Internet?”
“I’m not gonna waste my time trying to convince you what is so obvious.” Hanson turned to Roxy. “Let’s go. If you want to route out, do it properly. The right way. We’re not leaving without you. That’s all there is to it. So you might as well come with us and get it over with.”
Whatever “it” was.
I heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Followed by its engine shutting down and the sound of two doors opening and closing. A few seconds later, Detective Chip Gardner and another plain-clothed officer walked into the Little House. Standing room only. Both wore short sleeve shirts and ties. They’d clipped their badges to their belts. Gardner was ten years older than his partner and the one in charge. He’d received my text.
“Detective Chip Gardner,” he said. “And my partner Sean Buckley. What’s going on here?”
“This woman is Brenda Jackson, the executive director of the local Church of Scientology,” I said. As the host. “These other two guys are Sea Org members and are trying force Roxy and me to come with them.”
Gardner turned his attention to them. “Is that right? In case you weren’t aware gentlemen, kidnapping in California is against the law.”
“We’re not forcing anyone to do anything,” Hanson said.
“You said you weren’t leaving without us,” I said.
“What do you know about Joan Macias?” Gardner asked.
“Never heard of her,” Hanson answered.
“The woman who died a short while ago. Here in Santa Barbara. She was doing the Purification Rundown with Rick, here.”
Hanson shook his head. “Wasn’t there.”
“Didn’t say you were. What do you know about what happened?”
“Like I said, I’ve never heard of this Macias woman. So I have no idea what happened to her.”
Gardner glanced at his partner and shrugged. Then to Hanson, he said, “If you’re lying, we’ll find out.” He pulled his small notebook out of his back pocket.
Gardner wrote down their names and where they lived and worked. Hanson gave up his cell phone number. He and his SO buddy stuck to their story that they knew nothing about Joan. Which may have been true. They may have been ordered to simply pick up Roxy and me and bring us back to Pac Base in LA. They wouldn’t have needed to know anything else.
Gardner handed Hanson a business card. “Call me if you have change of heart.” Then, “You can go now.”
Hanson looked over at Roxy and said, “One more time, come with us.”
She shook her head. “No.”
When Hanson didn’t move, Gardner said, “You heard her. She’s not going with you. So you can leave now.” Once they’d left, he said to us. “I’ll have a patrol unit cruise by periodically.”
“Thanks,” I said.
Gardner turned to Brenda. “Care to shed any light on how Joan Macias ended up dead in her bathtub?”
“I already told you what I know,” she answered.
“You expect me believe Rick here moved her without any help from your place downtown to her house? All two hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight? Seriously?”
“Think whatever you want.”
“Sooner or later, I’ll find out the truth.”
In case he’d forgotten, I’d already told him the whole truth.
“Things won’t go so easy for you, Ms. Jackson if I find out you’ve been lying to me.”
Brenda stared at the detective with excellent TRO before walking out the door.
The two detectives left a couple minutes later.
“Well that certainly was fun,” Dev said.
“They’ll be back,” Roxy said. “They won’t let this go. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hanson and his friend were parked around the corner just waiting for the cops to leave. They return to AO without me, they’ll be in deep shit.”
“So what do we do?” Dev asked. “You think those guys would physically try to kidnap you?”
“I don’t know for sure. I’ve never heard of that happening but I wouldn’t put it past them. Usually they just keep hammering a person—verbally—until he eventually breaks down and agrees to go with them.”
“No. They basically just keep repeating what they said before. Like I’ll be throwing away my life unless I go with them. That the Sea Org is most ethical organization in the world. That nobody is doing more good to save the planet than them. That my life is fucked if I don’t go with them. If I stay here, in the Wog world, I’ll be lost for all of eternity.”
“What’s a Wog?” Dev asked.
“Stands for worthy Oriental gentleman. It’s an old English term, I think.”
“Sound condescending and racist.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“I got an idea,” Dev said. “What if Roxy stays with me?”
“No!” I said. A little too quickly.
“But they don’t know where I live. If those Sea Org guys come by again, you can tell em Roxy went to live with her aunt in Saskatchewan.”
“I don’t have an aunt in Saskatchewan or anywhere else,” Roxy said.
“That’s not the point,” Dev said. “The point is to make them think you’ve gone somewhere else. Someplace far away. Like Canada.”
I squeezed Roxy’s hand, imagining her staying with me. In the Little House. Lying next to me in my bed. My hands running up her… “She’ll be okay here,” I said. Snapping out of my short reverie.
“But you don’t know that for sure,” Dev said. “They could snatch her away while you were at school. You can’t be with her all the time. And even if you were, they could show up with six guys instead of two and they’d overpower the fuck out of you.”
Everything he said was true. “They’re not gonna come back,” I said.
“No, dude. They will be back. You heard what Roxy said. They won’t give up.”
“Well… She can’t stay at your house forever, either.”
“She could crash at Cindy’s,” Dev said.
“And how long would she stay there?”
“Until things cooled down. Like until this situation was resolved.”
“But how long would that be? A couple of weeks? A month? A year?”
“I don’t know. They’ll have to give up eventually. It’s not like they’re gonna post people here forever. We’ll just have to play things by ear.”
I turned to Roxy. “You think they’ll hold on to this?”
“For a while, at least. I think.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. They might.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back on the couch.
“I think we gotta just play it by ear, guys,” Dev repeated. “See what happens.”
The only thing I wanted to see happening was Roxy living with me in the Little House.