The fourth installment of the first draft of a novel written by our old friend Terra Cognita. For the next little while it is our Sunday Serial.
Terra welcomes all suggestions and feedback — this is draft — you can note them in the comments.
Time, Place, Form, and Event
A couple of hours later, Brenda walked into the room followed by Doug, and four guys in blue coveralls. One carried two of gallons of bleach. The last guy in line held a big square of folded, gray plastic. I felt just about as dead as Joan.
“These guys are here to take care of things,” Brenda said. “Clean things up.” She didn’t include their name, rank, or serial numbers. Or tell me they were Sea Org members.
They all pulled disposable plastic gloves out of their pockets and put them on. The guy with the plastic knelt down and began unfolding it next to Joan. Stretched out, it came to about seven feet in length and four feet in width. A zipper ran down the top from one end to the other.
“Is that a fuckin body bag?” I asked.
“Yep,” the guy answered.
“Where’d you get it?”
“Not your concern,” Brenda interrupted.
“I’d say pretty much everything that happens here is my concern,” I said.
“The less you know, the better.”
“Stand aside, Rick.”
The bag guy pulled down the zipper and spread apart the two halves before scooting around to the front of Joan and pulling down her bathing suit. Which wasn’t easy.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Somewhat aghast.
“Not your concern.”
I could have argued the point but didn’t.
I’d never seen a naked woman of Joan’s age. Nor one of her girth or so hairy in the nether regions. Or so stained with shit. “Fuckin-A,” I muttered, shaking my head.
When he was done, he stuffed the soiled bathing suit in a plastic bag that he pulled from his back pocket. He double-knotted the top and set it down off to the side.
The other SO members all grabbed a limb, lifted, and swung Joan’s body into the bag. Which wasn’t easy.
“Fuck. It stinks in here,” one of them said.
“Shut up,” Brenda said. “No talking.”
I followed Brenda, Doug, and the four guys carrying Joan to the back door of the Org where they’d backed up their white, windowless van. They’d left just enough space for the back door to fully swing open. Brenda peeked outside to make sure the coast was clear before signaling it was okay to load the body. They unceremoniously shoved Joan inside along with her soiled clothes and slammed the doors shut. Three of them climbed in front and pulled away from the Org.
After being handed a set of keys from Doug, the fourth guy walked across the parking lot to Joan’s white Camry, clicked it open with the key, and climbed inside. He backed out and followed the van out of the lot.
I said a silent good-bye to Joan before walking back inside the org.
“Now what?” I asked Brenda.
“Now we just forget this whole thing ever happened,” she answered.
“You gotta be kidding.”
“No. I’m not.”
“Because people are gonna ask questions. Like Bill, her husband, is gonna want to know what happened. Why his wife came here to the Org to do the Purif—alive—and never returned. Or if she did return, why she wasn’t as lively as when she’d left that morning.”
“This is no longer your concern.”
“How can you say that? This is totally my concern! Like what happens when the police show up and ask me what happened?”
“We’ll talk in my office. Come with us, Doug.”
The three of us climbed the back stairs to the Brenda’s nicely-appointed, third floor office. Unlike all the other ones I’d seen, hers came with new carpeting, new couch, new desk, new chairs, and artwork on the walls. A big tapestry of noblemen and wenches hefting pewter mugs of ale in some kind of rough, medieval pub adorned the wall behind her desk. Unlike me, they seemed pretty happy.
Brenda sat down behind her desk. Doug took one the chairs opposite. I slumped down in the other. Didn’t think Brenda would have appreciated me stretching out on the couch.
“The first thing we’re gonna do is gather up everything of Joan’s into a trash bag. Then we’re going to wash down the sauna and the Purif room with the bleach. We don’t want any traces of her to remain. No hairs, no nothing.”
“But everyone knows Joan was on the Purif,” I said. “It would actually be weirder if there was nothing of hers laying around. Like hairs or skin follicles or one of her towels.” Or shit stains on the floor.
“I’m not saying we deny she was ever on the Purif. What we’re trying to accomplish is that she wasn’t here today. That she didn’t die here in the Org this morning. If anyone asks why the place is so clean, we tell em we wash down the whole area every evening. For sanitary reasons.”
“But what about Bill? Her husband. Surely he knows she came here this morning,” I said.
“Joan went back home before ever starting today. She said she wasn’t feeling well. Said she might have been coming down with something. So she went home,” Brenda said.
Doug nodded. “That’s what she told me.”
“So you’re saying she told us she wasn’t feeling well. And went home. And died there. Right?” I said.
“That’s what we’re saying,” Joan said.
“So this means those Sea Org guys are taking her back to her house.”
“They’ll leave her in her bathtub.”
“Where everyone will think she died.”
I felt nauseous. It didn’t help my spinning world when I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.
I asked, “And what about me?”
“What about you, Rick?” Brenda asked.
“I mean…what did I do after Brenda went home?”
“You returned to your house. Stayed there the rest of the day. Had no idea what happened to Joan. Simple as that.”
“And what happens when Bill gets home tonight?”
“He calls 911.”
“Simple as that?”
“Jeez, what else is he supposed to do?” Doug said.
“Nobody will think she died anywhere else but there in the tub,” Brenda added.
Nobody said anything for a minute. A siren sounded off in the distance. Could have been a fire truck. Could have been an ambulance.
“So…you good with this, Rick?” Brenda asked.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Good with this? Like everything is cool? Like I’m supposed to just go home and pretend none of this ever happened?”
“No, of course not. Obviously, everything is not cool and we can’t pretend none of this ever happened. Joan was a good woman. She didn’t deserve to die this way. We will grieve for her. What I meant was, are you cool with the story? That she went home this morning when she wasn’t feeling well and that was the last we saw of her. Are you on board?”
“Rick, you gotta do better than ‘I guess.’ I need your commitment. Because the authorities—whoever they are—might question you. Probably just as a formality, but if they do, we all need to be on the same page here.”
“She came in this morning. Said she wasn’t feeling well. Went home,” I said.
“That’s the story. Keep it simple.”
“Yeah, like don’t try to add anything, like unnecessary details,” Doug said. “Don’t embellish things. That’s what trips people up.”
“She came in this morning. Said she wasn’t feeling well. Went home,” I repeated. “That’s all I know.”
“Perfect,” Brenda said. “Now you two boys go down and clean up the area.”
Doug and I grabbed a couple of buckets and sponges from the cleaning supply room—which happened to be right next door to the Purif—and got to work. We didn’t say more than a couple of words to each other the whole time, each of lost in our own heads. By the time we got done, my hands were red and smelled like Clorox.
“I guess that’s it,” Doug said, dumping the last bucket of dirty water into the toilet in the Purif bathroom.
The day had turned into a nightmare and I couldn’t wait to leave.
“You’re not gonna do anything stupid now, are you?” he said.
“Fuck you, Doug,” I replied. I was growing to hate the guy. His smug, know-it-all attitude. The way he treated me like I was six. I was happy to see his black slacks were speckled with white, bleach marks.
He turned on me in a flash and stepped forward so our faces were only inches apart. “No! Fuck you, asshole! In case you weren’t listening, I’m saving your lousy fuckin ass!”
My body tightened. Ready for him to try something physical. Like push me. Or throw a punch.
“You think I’m working here for the money?” he continued. “Most weeks, we don’t get paid anything. On good ones, we’re lucky to get fifty bucks. I’m here because I’m trying to make a difference in the world. I help people. I’m helping to save the planet from fucking blowing itself to fuckin hell! So I don’t appreciate your fuckin attitude, Rick. Who thinks he knows more than the rest of us. And is above all this. So fuck you, Rick. Just fuck you.”
I felt properly chastised and took a step back.
Doug wasn’t finished. “So I’m gonna ask you again. You aren’t gonna do anything stupid, are you?”
“No, I’m not gonna do anything stupid.”
“Because if you do, it’s your ass on the line. You were the one who was with her when she died.”
“As if I could ever forget.” I didn’t say, “I wasn’t the one who facilitated the cover-up.”
“Joan got here this morning. Felt a little sick. Went home. So you went home, too. And that’s all you know.” Doug’s hard look didn’t waver. “Got it?”
We stashed the buckets, sponges, and what was left of the bleach back in the cleaning room and went upstairs.
“I’m gonna call you later,” Doug said. “See how you’re doing.”
I nodded. Might have muttered, “Okay.” Might have muttered, “Fuck you.”
I walked out to the city parking lot in back of the Org and climbed in my 2011 Prius. A couple of minutes later, I shifted into reverse, glanced over my shoulder, and backed out of the spot. Cost me six bucks to leave the lot. I drove home in a trance. Didn’t remember the drive at all.
In case you forgot, I lived in a small, one bedroom cottage attached to a small, one-car garage. For free. My dad and two brothers lived in the main house on the other side of the property. The former taught political science at Santa Barbara City College; the latter two were sophomores and juniors in high school. My mom had died in a drowning accident five years earlier. I hadn’t told any of them about my involvement in Scientology.
I’d grown up a strict atheist. God didn’t exist. Religion was the opiate of the people. Most churches were little more than cults. Republicans were a scourge, and the military industrial complex would be the end of us all. Hopefully, just not tomorrow.
I lay down on the old, green, hand-me-down couch in my living room/kitchen and closed my eyes. The events of the day replayed over and over again in my mind until an hour later, Dev opened the door and walked in.
“Hey, dude,” my best friend said.
“Hey,” I said.
“Party tonight. Suzie’s. Mockingbird Lane. Supposed to be a band.”
Mockingbird Lane was in Montecito—the Beverly Hills of Santa Barbara—where the houses were mansions and any party on Mockingbird Lane would be epic. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll times ten. I was as excited as a salmon on a Sahara sand dune.
“Kinda tired,” I said. “Might sit this one out.”
“Dude. Mockingbird Lane.”
“I know. It’s just…”
“Smells like bleach in here,” Dev said.
“I was cleaning earlier. At the Org.”
“The Scientology place, right?”
“You’re still doing that Purif thing?”
I nodded. “I was cleaning the sauna.”
“How’s that going for you?”
Fubar: Fucked up beyond all repair.
“You sit in a sauna for five hours a day, right?”
“We take breaks.”
“Must be tiring.”
“Supposed to purify the body. Sweat out all the toxins accumulated over the years.”
“Feeling cleaner?” he asked.
“Too early to tell,” I replied robotically.
“You know…you’re one of the last guys I would have ever imagined hooking up with Scientology. You do know they call themselves a religion?”
“How’d you know that?”
“Checked em out online.”
“Dude…not sure you want to go there. Then again, maybe you should.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like the Internet is crawling with anti-Scientology websites.”
“Didn’t know that.”
“I’m kinda surprised you didn’t Google the thing before getting started.”
“Probably had something to do with Patty—her already being involved and everything.”
“Speaking of whom, how’s that going for you?”
“Be lucky to last out the week,” I answered.
“I think she’s looking for something more permanent. Like she’s ready to move on to the next phase of her life. She’s five years older than me.”
“And is looking for someone more responsible. Husband material. Right?”
“Nailed it, bro.”
“So are you gonna break up with her? Or wait for her to drop the bomb?”
“You might as well come to the party, dude. I’ll be back around seven. See you then.”
“Adios,” I muttered.
Patty dropped by thirty minutes later and broke up with me.
I was still lying on the couch when Doug called from the Org. My cell phone was fully charged. My mind was at about fifteen percent.
“How you doing?” he asked.
“About as well as can be expected,” I answered.
When he didn’t elaborate, I said, “And?”
“He discovered Joan.”
“We told him she hadn’t been feeling well at the Org and went home. And that was the last we saw her.”
“I assume he bought it.”
“He seemed to.”
“Just seemed to?”
“He was pretty shook up. As can be expected. So it was hard to tell. But he didn’t question us or anything like that.”
“And that’s the end of it?”
“Will there be an autopsy?” I asked.
“Don’t know. If there is, there is. And we’ll deal with it.”
“You think they’ll be able to tell we moved the body?”
“There wasn’t any outward trauma to the body. Like blood or wounds or things like that. So I’m thinking they won’t be able to tell the body was moved.”
“But what if they can? She’d been dead for over three hours before those Sea Org guys came and moved her.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I really don’t think we have anything to worry about if we stick to our stories. Which is, she came in this morning, felt sick, and went home. And that’s the last that we saw of her. No way to prove otherwise.”
That we could think of, off the top of our heads.
“Anyway,” Doug continued, “we want you to come into the Org for some auditing. The kind that’ll handle the grief and all that.”
All that? Like all the lies? The deception?
I told him I didn’t have the funds “Like I told the reg—Kim—I don’t have a lot of money. And definitely not enough for an intensive.”
Church members were required to buy auditing by the intensive. An intensive equaled twelve and half hours. Apparently, Scientology hadn’t changed over to the metric system, either.
“This’ll be free,” Doug said.
“Won’t cost you a cent. We just want to make sure you’re doing okay. In fact, we got a Class 12 auditor all lined up for you.”
Auditors were “classified” per their level of training. Class 12s were the highest trained and only worked at advanced orgs, like the one down in LA. If LRH was God, Class 12s were demigods—or at least his sons and daughters.
“She’s down at AO. I’ll come by, pick you up, and drive you down.”
“AO? AOLA. Advanced Org, Los Angeles, right? Where the OT levels are delivered.”
OT stood for Operating Thetan. As far as I could tell, the term “thetan” was simply another word for “spirit.” According to Hubbard, we were all thetans. In man’s “native state,” a thetan could operate independent of his body. Like leave his corporeal self and fly around like some kind of state-of-the-art drone. As far as I knew, no one in Santa Barbara had reached that lofty level.
AOLA was staffed completely by the Sea Org. The elite of the elite.
“I think I’m gonna pass,” I said. The last thing I wanted to do was drive to LA. With Doug. The whole time, thinking and talking about what happened that morning. I felt sick to my stomach.
“I guarantee this is for your own good,” he said. “You gotta do this thing.”
“Just not up for it, Doug.”
“That’s just your bank talking, Rick.”
The Bank was that part of the mind—the Reactive Mind—that Hubbard talked about in Dianetics. Unlike its other half, the Analytical Mind, the Reactive Mind operated below the level of consciousness in a stimulus-response kind of way, the theory being, it protected a person from harm. For instance, a guy might avoid a particular model of car in which he was involved in an accident last lifetime. This Reactive Mind, or bank, in essence, would tell him to stay away from this type of car. Because these types of cars equaled pain and loss and were harmful to one’s survival. At least, that was the theory.
“I’m just really tired, man,” I said.
“You gotta do this. It’ll be good for you. And like I said, it won’t cost you a dime. I’ll even buy you dinner.”
I sighed and gazed out the window at a bird flittering around in the lemon tree in the back yard.
“I’ll be by around five to pick you up,” Doug added.
I texted Dev that I’d be otherwise engaged and couldn’t make the party.
At exactly five o’clock, Doug knocked on my door.
“Come in,” I said.
“Hey man,” he greeted me. “How you holding up?”
“Seen better days, for sure.”
He nodded. “You ready to go?”
No. I said, “Sure, let’s do this thing and get it over with.”
We stopped at an In and Out Burger in Camarillo on the way down to AOLA. Doug said they were waiting for us so we ate in the car. My burger and fries tasted bland. I barely touched my chocolate shake. And I didn’t give a shit about Doug’s assessment of the Dodgers chances of making the World Series. Traffic was hell.
We parked in a big lot on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and L. Ron Hubbard Way. Unlike Hollywood Boulevard, litter and bums weren’t allowed on L. Ron Hubbard’s clean, red brick pavers. Multi-story, light blue buildings lined both sides of the street. Doug said the big, city-block complex used to be a hospital. Now, it was all owned by Scientology. We walked down to last big blue cube on the left, AOLA, and went inside.
A young girl dressed up like a sailor stood up from behind her desk and smiled at us. Doug smiled back and told her who we were. She said they were waiting for us and pulled out a routing form.
Routing forms were lists of all the staff members people were required to see before doing a course or auditing action. Most routing forms began with the Receptionist, whom we’d just met; the Registrar, who signed people up for their next service and took your money; the EO or MAA (Ethics officer or Master of Arms); a Director of Training followed by a Supervisor for those doing a course, or a Director of Processing for those getting auditing. The whole process was reversed when one completed his service. Many different kinds of routing forms existed, depending on what one was doing.
The receptionist, signed off on the first few terminals—all personnel in Scientology were terminals—and told us we could go right to Ethics.
I turned to Doug. “Ethics? I thought I was coming down here for auditing.”
“You are,” he answered. “Ethics is just the first stop on the routing form. It’s a formality. Like everyone sees Ethics before auditing. Come on, it’s just around the corner and down the hall.”
I hadn’t remembered anything in Dianetics about going to Ethics prior to going in session. Then again, LRH had written the book over sixty years ago. I followed Doug around the corner and down the hall to another receptionist manning the Ethics desk. Doug handed him my routing form. He gestured to a closed door and told us to take a seat in the waiting room.
A table ran most of the length of the small room. All three seats on either side were filled with people reading things which I assumed had to do with Ethics. I leaned against the wall and pulled out my cell phone. Had one message from Dev who said the party on Mockingbird was definitely happening and that I should swing by later.
I texted back, “Depends when I get done.”
Immediately got a response: “Unless your thing goes all night…”
“Might see you. Might not.”
Occasionally, someone would glance my way as if what I was doing wasn’t okay. Like cell phones weren’t Kosher. I checked out a few more social media sites before a guy poked his head out from one of the doors and said, “Rick?”
I raised a hand. He told me I could leave my cell outside. I told him I’d just turn it off. He said, no, I had to leave the device outside. I asked why. He told me, “policy.” And that cell phones were “a distraction.” I shrugged and set my phone down on the floor just outside his door.
He his hand across his desk. “Gabe.”
Just like both receptionists, he was dressed in a sailor costume and looked two years younger than me. I’d expected someone older. Like someone with graying hair. Like a principal.
I took his outstretched hand and said, “Rick.”
“Okay, have a seat Rick and let’s get started.”
“Okay. And by the way, why am I here? In Ethics?”
“Everyone stops here before going in session.”
“Just to make sure there aren’t any situations that would hinder one’s progress.”
“Like being sick. Or connected to an SP.”
“Exactly.” Then, “This is going to be a metered interview, so pick up the cans, please.”
So much for chit-chat and getting to know one another. I picked up the cans and rested them on my thighs. And tried blocking out all the negative thoughts swirling through my mind. Which was just about impossible. I imagined the needle on his meter going crazy. Signifying: I was dirty and hiding a shit-load of undisclosed crimes. Or in Scientology parlance: overts and withholds. Overts were the crimes. Withholds were those you were hiding.
“Thank, you,” Gabe said, “you’re needle is floating.”
What the fuck? I felt about as okay as a snowball in July.
“We’re gonna do this Method Three, which means I’ll stop and take up all reads as they happen.”
A “read” was a needle manifestation of one sort or another. Like if Gabe asked, “Do you still fuck cats?” and the needle instantly swung over to the right, he would stop, look up, and expect me to answer the question.
It didn’t take more than the first question before he paused and looked over the desk at me. When I didn’t respond immediately, he asked again, “Do you have a present time problem?”
“I assume you know what happened on the Purif down in Santa Barbara.”
“I’ve been briefed,” he said.
“Well…if that isn’t a present time problem, I don’t know what is.”
“I mean, geez, a woman drops dead practically right at my feet.” I shook my head. “To tell you the truth, although it was a bummer she died, it wasn’t a problem. That she died was a tragedy. Doug and Brenda made it into a problem.”
“Tell me about it.”
“They said if the media got ahold of the story, it’d look really bad for Scientology. And for me, personally. Like the press would hold me responsible for what happened. Even if I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Which I didn’t.”
“What did Doug and Brenda say exactly.”
I told him.
“And have you talked about this to anyone else?”
“Not a friend? Family member? Girlfriend? Anybody”
“Nobody. You’re the only one besides Doug and Brenda.”
“Good. For now let’s keep it that way.” He glanced down at the e-meter, then back at me and asked, “Is there any more to this incident?”
“No. I told you everything.” Except for all the stuff I wasn’t required to divulge. And all the negative thoughts swirling around my head.
“Look around,” Gabe said. “See if there’s anything more to this incident.”
I went over the event in my mind, from the moment I heard the bump in the sauna to driving down to AO with Doug. I’d told him everything I cared to disclose. I wasn’t about to tell him I thought this whole cover up was wrong.
I shook my head. “I told you everything.”
“Take another look.”
I looked. A few seconds later, Gabe said, “There. That.”
Apparently, my needle had done something that signified I’d touched on something in my mind that required handling. As far as I could see, I hadn’t thought of anything new or which I hadn’t already disclosed.
“There, that,” Gabe said again.
“Sorry. Don’t know what that is,” I replied.
“Take a good look.”
“I’d told you exactly what happened.”
“Maybe you had some thoughts about it?”
“Well, yeah, I got tons of those.”
“Tell me about em.”
“Well, for instance, I’m not sure this whole cover up was necessary. Like maybe we should have called the cops and let them handle everything. It wasn’t like we did anything bad…or unlawful. She—Joan—just keeled over and died. That’s all there was to it. By moving the body, though, it makes it seem like we did something wrong. Like we had something to do with her death. Like this was all our fault.”
“Thank you. You’re needle’s floating.”
I felt so weird and conflicted, I was surprised.
“We’re going to continue with the list,” Gabe said.
I leaned back and closed my eyes.
After a few more questions, Gabe paused and looked across the desk at me. I assumed he wanted me to answer the last question: “Is there something you’ve been careful about?”
“I’m careful about all sorts of things,” I said.
“Something in particular?”
“I’m careful about crossing the street at busy intersections.”
“Okay.” Gabe continued looking at me. As if my answer hadn’t been good enough for him. Which I could understand. I was sure “crossing streets” wasn’t what he was after.
“Take a good look. See if there’s something else,” he said.
There was something else alright. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to reveal what it was. I’d kept it a secret for two years. I hadn’t even told Dev. Nor had I any plans to do so. This was one of those things I planned on taking to my grave.
Well, probably not to my grave. Especially if it turned out I really swung that way. Would have been hard to keep something so monumental to myself. Pretty much impossible, actually.
“Listen,” I said. “The only thing on my mind right now is what happened this morning. In the Purif. With Joan. Back in Santa Barbara. As far as I’m concerned, nothing else matters. Nothing else comes close.”
Gabe nodded knowingly. “I hear what you’re saying. But let’s take a look anyway. See if there’s anything else.”
I rolled my eyes. And said, “Okay…” I tried thinking happy thoughts. Like sitting next to that swimming hole up Mission Creek in the mountains behind Santa Barbara. Summertime. High eighties. Bright blue sky. Sound of birds chirping; flowing water; a lone frog calling for a mate from somewhere upstream. Speaking of which…”
“My girlfriend, Patty, just broke up with me,” I said.
“Thank you. Tell me about that.”
“Nothing much to tell. She was ready to move on. Hook up with someone older, more stable, someone with a career. Get married. Have kids. Those types of things. I didn’t fit the bill.” By a long shot.
“Is Patty in Scientology?”
“She’s the one who got me in.”
“And she lives in Santa Barbara?”
Gabe turned his gaze to the meter and asked, “Does she know what happened this morning?”
“Like I told you earlier, I haven’t told anyone. So if she knows, it didn’t come from me.”
Apparently, Gabe was satisfied with my answer because he said we would continue with the list. I was relieved I hadn’t had to disclose anything too revealing. So far.
The last fifty questions didn’t “read”—the meter needle didn’t react to any more of the questions—so I got a reprieve from any more interrogation. Gabe said we were done.
Doug and I were sitting upstairs in the PC waiting room waiting for my auditor to take me in session. A video of some Scientology event played on a wide screen TV affixed to the opposite wall. I numbly stared at the show, not believing half of what was being shown. I couldn’t wait to go home.
An older woman with short, gray hair, stopped in front of me, smiled, and said, “Rick?”
I stood up. “That’s me.”
“Hi, I’m Maddie. And I’ll be your auditor today. We’re all set to go.”
I told Doug I’d see him later and followed Maddie to a locked door at the end of the hall. She punched in the requisite code on the keypad and we entered another hall lined by a half dozen similarly locked doors on either side. Just like downstairs in Ethics, she told me to leave my cell phone outside. I entered the small room and sat down on the far side of the desk.
Maddie sat down on her side and asked, “Any tight clothing? Pants, shoes?”
“No. I’m good.”
Apparently, tight clothing effected the e-meter. No idea why.
“Let me feel your hands.”
I held them out over the meter. She felt them and said they were a little dry and reached for bottle of hand cream on the shelf behind her. She applied a dab to one of my palms.
“Go ahead and rub that in,” she ordered.
Moist hands provided superior electrical connectivity with the cans, which in turn, made for more accurate needle reads. Or so the theory went.
I rubbed in the cream and picked up the cans. While Maddie arranged her pens and papers, I wondered if the band had begun to play on Mockingbird Lane. If people were dancing. If everyone was loaded enough. I smiled inwardly, wishing I was there.
Maddie started the session by asking the same preliminary questions Gabe had asked me down in Ethics. Despite the answers being the same, it took an hour before she was satisfied and we could move on to the main list. The questions seemed pretty similar to the ones I’d been asked earlier except she prefaced each one with, “Regarding the Purif and Joan’s death…”
Answers flashed through my mind to every question she asked. I could have responded to everything. Unless a question read—the needle reacted at the end of the question—on the meter, though, there wasn’t any “charge” connected to it and we wouldn’t “take it up.” “Charge” was emotional angst. “Taking it up” meant answering the question sufficiently to a point where there was no more anxiety and my needle floated.
If I’d answered the question to the best of my ability but my needle still wasn’t floating, Maddie asked if there was “an earlier, similar incident.” According to Hubbard’s theory, long chains of related incidents were stored in the reactive mind. We were considered done when all the charge had been drained away from the earliest of these incidents. Or until my needle floated. Or something like that. I wasn’t absolutely sure.
If I’d had a kindly, fifty-year-old aunt, I imagined she’d have been like Maddie: friendly, caring, kindhearted. Slightly plump. Helpful. Wanting only what was best for me. Her soothing voice almost put me to sleep halfway through the list.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” she asked. Snapping me out of my reverie.
“Have we gone past something you thought you should have told me about?”
“Truth is, I’ve thought of answers for just about all the questions.”
“Was there one in particular you’re thinking about?”
“No,” I lied.
“Well, take a look. See if you can find something.”
I took a minute but didn’t think of anything that hadn’t already flashed through my mind three or four times already. I shook my head.
“There,” she said, looking at the meter. “There,” meaning the needle had reacted in some fashion.
I shook my head. “Listen, the reason I’m here is because of what happened this morning while on the Purif. My twin died. If that’s not enough to fuck with my head, I don’t know what is. So if you want to do some kind of grief counselling, why don’t we just get on with it.”
Maddie smile sympathetically. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
So I did. When I’d finished, she asked me if there was an earlier, similar incident.
I snorted and rolled my eyes. “I guarantee that’s the only one. I’d never even seen a dead body before this morning. Nothing else in my life even comes close to what happened.”
“Is there any more to this incident?”
“I think it’s pretty fucked up how this whole thing is being handled.”
“Tell me about that.”
“We should have just called the police and let them deal with it. Instead of concocting this whole cover up. And no doubt breaking about a thousand laws in the process. Like what if the coroner concludes the body was moved? What then? What do I say to the cops when they come knocking on my door and asking me what happened? Like I’m supposed to lie to em? Tell em she felt sick and went home and that was the last I ever saw of her? Or do I tell em the truth and let the shit hit the fan?” I leaned back and closed my eyes. And waited for Maddie to finish writing. Or ask me if there was anything earlier and similar.
“Well thank you for telling me of your concerns, Rick. Can you tell me anymore?”
“This whole thing just seems so blown out of control. And I let it happen. Like I went along with Brenda and Doug instead of doing what I knew was right. I can’t believe I let them talk me into this whole scheme. I should have called the cops immediately and let the chips fall where they may.” I shook my head for the thousandth time.
“Well thank you for telling me this, Rick. I think that’s all we’re going to do for this session. I’m going to get this data to the CS.”
CS was short for Case Supervisor, who was responsible for reading the transcripts from every session and deciding what should be done next. He or she was also in charge of every person’s next action on the Bridge—primarily what kind of auditing they should do next.
I put down the cans and took a deep a breath. I was so ready to go home.
Maddie escorted me to the waiting room where Doug was waiting for me. I sat down next to him on the couch. Maddie said it wouldn’t be long and walked back toward the auditing rooms.
“Something to eat?” Doug asked, holding out a granola bar.
I wasn’t hungry at all but said, “Sure,” accepting the snack.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
We were the only ones in the room, so we didn’t have to worry about being overheard.
“About what you’d expect. Pretty much all I did was tell her what happened this morning. She said she’d get the data to the CS and we’d go from there.”
If that last “session” was Scientology’s version of grief counselling, I wasn’t impressed. And not happy. I checked my cell phone for messages. Had one from Dev. The party was “definitely happening.”
“I can’t wait to go home,” I said.
“I’m sure this won’t take long,” Doug replied.
I was sure it would.
“Like I don’t even know why I’m down here. Talking to Gabe in Ethics, or Maddie here isn’t gonna change anything. Won’t bring Brenda back to life, that’s for sure.”
“Everyone just wants to make sure you’re doing okay.”
I nodded. And thought: everyone wants to make sure I’m not gonna go blabbing to the cops.