The next 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.
Blazer guy, his driver, Sean, Ryan, Roxy, and I sat lined up on the sidewalk outside Jupiter Donuts. The first rays of the sun flicked over the horizon as the street filled up with early morning commuters. Ryan had refused medical assistance for his fucked-up nose and the six cops had holstered their guns. Gray-haired stared down at me, his hands on his hips. His hair was the grayest and he wore an extra chevron on his sleeve. “Do you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t want press charges, either. I just want to go home.”
“Do you have transportation?” Gray-haired asked.
I shook my head. “I was gonna call my friend, Dev.”
“He live in Santa Barbara, too?”
“If he left right now he wouldn’t get here for another three hours. More if the traffic was bad going through LA. Which it usually is.”
I nodded, again.
Gray-hair turned to Blazer-guy and shook his head. “Go back to your compound. You and your three flunkies.”
Blazer-guy got to his feet. “Come on, Roxy. Let’s go.”
Roxy didn’t move. Nor did she raise her head from between her knees.
“Come on, Roxy. You’re coming back to the Base with us.”
Roxy didn’t move.
Gray-hair stepped in front of her. “Miss… You don’t have to go with these people if you don’t want to. You’re free to go wherever you want.”
I reached over and ran my hand between her shoulders. “You can come with me,” I said. “If you want.”
“Don’t be stupid, Roxy,” Blazer-guy said. “Don’t throw away your whole life.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Gray-hair said. “She can do whatever she wants.” He turned to Roxy, “Miss, what would you like to do? Like I said, you’re free to do whatever you want.”
One of the other cop’s shoulder radio squawked. He hit a button on it and walked over to his car. The sun began to light up the parking lot.
Roxy raised her head up from between her knees. She glanced at Gray-hair first; then at Blazer-guy; then at me.
“You’re welcome to come with me.” I repeated for the hundredth time. “I want you to come with me.” I kneaded the nape of her neck.
She nodded. Twice. Which was enough for me.
“Alright, then. It’s settled,” Gray-hair said. “Roxy and Rick are going to Santa Barbara. The rest of you… Go back to where you came from.” When none of them moved, he said, “Now. Let’s move it. Unless, that is, you want us to take you in for public disturbance.”
Blazer-guy rose to feet and turned to Roxy and me, his hard stare easy to read. “This isn’t over,” it said.
Roxy and I were sitting inside Jupiter Donuts in downtown Hemet, California staring out the front window. Glazed and old-fashion donut crumbs littered our table. Our second cups of coffee were hardly keeping us awake. According to the cop who’d just returned to his patrol car out in the parking lot, Dev was still a half hour out.
“I guess my life is pretty much fucked,” Roxy said. I could barely make out her eyes behind her mostly-closed lids.
“I’m thinking, just the opposite,” I said. “Your life is about to begin. You’re about to start living for the first time in your life. Experiencing life in the world. Outside the Sea Org. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think—as bad as a lotta people inside the church make it out to be.”
“You lived in Santa Barbara your whole life?”
I nodded. “My whole life.”
“Then you’re hardly a spokesman for the world.”
“This is true. But…while you’ve been sequestered in the SO, I’ve been reading books and newspapers, going to school, watching TV, surfing the Internet, and doing the whole social media thing. I’ve even taken vacations with my family. So I kinda do know what’s going on outside. Not as much as some, but more than the average Sea Org member, I’m sure.”
“So you got your whole life mapped out?”
A lone cloud drifted in front of the sun. For real.
“I wish,” I said.
“So you don’t know what you want to do with your life? Is that what you’re saying?”
“One of my ruins, for sure.”
Roxy nodded. “Up until a few hours ago, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”
“You wanted to be a good little Sea Org member forever, right? Save the planet.”
“You really thought you were gonna serve out your billion year contract?”
“That whole billion year thing is more ceremonial than anything.”
“Right. Like what are the odds of the SO even existing a hundred years from now?”
Roxy didn’t respond. Just looked out the window. Inside their car, the two cops were laughing about something funny. Of all the early morning customers who’d stopped by for coffee and donuts, few were Hispanic. Probably had to do with the cops in the parking lot.
“You know…” Roxy said. “The Sea Org isn’t all bad. And neither is Scientology or LRH. For sure they have their flaws, but there’s also a lot of good.”
“You saying the means justify the ends?”
“No. I’m just saying there’re bad apples in every group.”
“What about the four guys we just dealt with? Sean, Ryan, Gray-hair leader…those guys? Are they bad apples?”
Roxy closed her eyes the rest of the way and leaned back in her chair. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
I didn’t know either. I didn’t believe any of them were inherently evil. I just thought they were brainwashed. Some more than others.
I’d never been gladder at seeing a silver Honda Civic than the one Dev was driving when he pulled into the parking.
We’d just passed Ventura on our drive home. I was sitting up front with Dev. Roxy was asleep in the back seat.
“So dude, what you gonna do?” Dev asked for the hundredth time. “You gonna go to the cops or not say anything and let the chips fall where they may?”
“I’m leaning toward turning myself in.”
“You wouldn’t be turning yourself in. You’d just be filling them in on what really happened.”
“Which was a crime.”
“Moving a dead body? Probably. But you didn’t actually do any of the moving.”
“Yeah, but I watched it happen. And didn’t report it. I was an accessory to a crime.”
“This is true. But what they gonna do? Throw you in jail?”
“Fuck if I know. I just think I gotta step forward and tell the truth.”
A strong northerly whipped up whitecaps across the ocean.
“And it’s not like Joan was murdered,” Dev said. “She died of natural causes, right?”
“I would hardly call dying in a sauna, natural.”
“But the point is, you didn’t kill her. A bad heart killed her. Or whatever.”
I shook my head. Right. Whatever.
Roxy grumbled—or groaned, or whatever one did while having a bad dream—and rolled over in her seat. Dev nodded her way. “What about Roxy?” he mouthed.
I shrugged. “Live in the Little House with me, I guess.”
“Go to school. City College. Get a part time job.”
“That’s not what I was talking about, dude. I was talking about things like…sleeping arrangements. You know…things like that.”
“We haven’t known each other all that long,” I said.
“Which doesn’t mean shit.”
Dev was right.
“You like her?” he asked.
I glanced out the window. “Kinda,” I said.
“I just met the girl, dude.”
“And she’s a virgin. And not just in the sexual sense of the word. From what you’ve told me, she’s like a life virgin. If you know what I mean.”
I knew what he meant.
“So like you’ll pretty much have to teach her everything,” Dev continued. “I’m not saying that’s all bad; I’m just saying it’s a big responsibility.”
I knew what he meant.
“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked. “Just let her out downtown and let her fend for herself?”
“No dude. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying…”
From the back seat: “I can hear what you guys are saying.”
“You’re awake,” I said.
“Have been for a while.”
“And just so you know. I am a virgin…in every sense of the word.”
Dev grinned. I stared at the ocean.
“And just so you know, Dev, I’m not as fuckin clueless as you think I am,” she said.
“I never said you were clueless,” Dev defended. “I just said…”
“I know what you said. And I know what you meant. I don’t know shit about the outside world, right? I got it. You don’t have to remind me.”
“Well…being in the Sea Org your whole life…yeah.”
“I know more than you think!”
And a lot less than she thought.
Dev nodded. “Okay. Cool.”
The wind howled out in the channel. Not that I could actually hear it but I knew from years of experience that whitecaps and howling went hand in hand.
“And about you going to the cops, Rick,” she said. “Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”
We pulled up in front of the Little House twenty minutes later.
I was sitting in the kitchen with my dad eating turkey sandwiches and drinking milk. At my own pace. Without having to be someplace else in five minutes.
“Tell me all about Scientology,” he asked.
So I did. I told him about how my old girlfriend, Patty, had introduced me to the Student Hat and Dianetics. I told him about the Comm Course. About the book, Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health. About the Purification Rundown. About Joan—along with the whole sordid sequence of events. And finally, about my time at Int Base out in Hemet. By the time I finished, the sandwiches and milk were long gone.
“I take it your involvement with Scientology is over?” Dad asked.
“Pretty much, yeah,” I answered.
“I won’t be doing any more courses or anything, if that’s what you’re asking. But that doesn’t mean my involvement with them is completely over. Like there’s still the whole thing about Joan.” And Roxy.
“What do you plan to do about that?”
“I’m gonna go to the cops tomorrow morning. Tell em everything. The whole story. Come clean.”
“I think that’s a wise move. Another sandwich?”
“Two’s enough. Three would kill me. I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Dad grabbed a beer out of the refrige. “And what about Roxy?”
“What about her?” My big plan was to let her sleep the rest of the day. In my bed in the Little House.
Dad smiled. “You rescued her. She’s your responsibility.”
I’d heard of that philosophy.
“I kinda got that,” I said.
Dad took a sip and raised his eyes at me, waiting for a more thorough answer. He was a professor, after all. I thought of grabbing a beer for myself but would have felt weird drinking in front of him. Maybe in another couple of years.
“I was thinking she could go to City College,” I said. “Seeing as how you work there, maybe you could pull some strings. To get her in, that is.”
“Not necessary. CC is open to anyone.”
“Even if they don’t have a high school degree?”
“Roxy doesn’t have one?”
“She said she has a GED.”
“Then that’s all she needs. The fall semester starts in a month.” Dad took a sip of beer. “And what about all the other stuff?”
I thought I knew what he was talking about but asked anyway. “What stuff?”
“Family, friends, living expenses, that kind of stuff. From what you’ve described, she’s lead a fairly insular life.”
“I thought she could stay with me—us—in the Little House.”
“She could get job,” I added. “And pay rent…if you wanted.”
Dad nodded. I wasn’t sure if he meant it was okay that she could stay with me in the Little House or that it was okay that she should pay rent.
“She’s been in Scientology her whole life. Her mom and dad, all her friends…they’re all part of it.”
“So you’re all she’d got.”
“As far as I know, yeah.”
“Well…I’m okay with her staying in the Little House.”
I sensed the trepidation in his voice. “But…?”
“I’ve been doing a little research since I found out you were involved in Scientology.”
He was a college professor, after all. “What’d you find out?” I asked.
“It’s a scary organization.”
“Is that right?”
“From what you’ve described of your time at the Int Base, I would think you’d agree.”
I nodded. “They’re kinda militaristic.”
“Not surprising considering L. Ron Hubbard’s history.”
“He was in the military?”
“World War Two. You ought to have done your homework before you became involved with them.” He smiled. “I thought I’d taught you better than that.”
I nodded. Turned my attention to the floor, feeling thoroughly chastised.
“You’re right,” I said.
“We need to get you a lawyer before you go to the police,” he said.
“You really think that’s necessary?”
“We won’t know until we talk to one.”
I got up to leave.
Dad held up his hands. “Hold up there, Rick.”
I sat back down.
“Let’s talk about you, now,” he said.
“What about me?” I wanted to leave.
“What made you get involved with Scientology?”
I’d been dreading the question. Knew it was coming. “Well… Patty told me about this course they have called the Student Hat that’s supposed to help a person learn how to…learn.” I shrugged.
“Are you have problems with…learning how to learn?”
“Well…not specifically. I mean…I get decent grades and all that…it’s just…like…I could do so much better. Like retain everything I read instead of only sixty, seventy, or eighty percent. Or sometimes, less.”
“So you don’t retain one hundred percent of what you study. Few do. I have the feeling there’s more to this than simple percentages.”
“Well…part of it is that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Like I feel kinda directionless.”
“And you thought Scientology might have helped point you in the right direction?”
“I thought they might have helped me locate what was holding me back from committing to a field of study. Like pulling the trigger. Saying ‘Yes. I’m gonna be a mechanical engineer,’ and…just going for it. But I can’t seem to make a decision. I can’t commit.”
“I take it you didn’t find what you were looking for.”
“According to the book, Dianetics, there are specific incidents in a person’s past which adversely affect him in the present.”
“Sounds like a reasonable assumption.”
“I know, right? So you do this thing called auditing where you find those incidents and look at em over and over again until they have no more effect on you. At least, that’s the theory.”
“I take it you haven’t tried any of this auditing for yourself.”
“I wanted to. But they told me I had to do the Communications Course and the Purification Rundown first. That’s kinda how I got involved in doing the Purif.”
“Mind if I ask how much all this cost?” Dad asked.
I let out a long stream of breath. And stretched. And then told him.
“You had this much money?”
“Some. Put most of it on my credit card.”
“I thought you had a very low limit.”
“They recently bumped it up to five thousand.”
“Can you get your money back?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Haven’t really thought about it.”
“You might want to. The interest alone is gonna kill you.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“You also might want to consider…more conventional therapy. UCSB has a counselling center. Think about stopping by.”
I said I would. Then, “So…you know a good lawyer?”
Like some modern day Goldilocks, Roxy was sleeping in my bed—which was queen-sized, just so you know—when I returned to the Little House. Slivers of late afternoon light shined through the drawn blinds. I wanted nothing more to strip off my clothes and climb under the covers with her. So I did. WTF.
I caught a brief glimpse of bra and panties when she jerked awake and rolled away on her side. “Rick! What are you doing?” she gasped.
“In case you forgot, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night,” I said. “I can barely keep my eyes open.” Which was true. So I closed em. “And this is my bed.”
“You talk with your dad?” she asked.
“And you told him about me? And our situation?”
“And? Like how’d he react? What’d he say?”
“You’re welcome to stay here.” And then, “He said I’m kinda responsible for you.”
“I’m responsible for myself, thank you very much.”
“That’s a Scientology thing, right?”
“LRH said we’re all responsible for our own condition. So yeah, it’s a Scientology thing. And one that I happen to believe in. So I’m responsible for myself…not you.”
“He also suggested we see a lawyer about the whole Joan situation. Neither of us knows about the legal ramifications.”
“Once you see a lawyer, the shit’s really gonna hit the fan. One thing about Scientology is that they don’t take kindly to members taking matters into their own hands. Like seeing lawyers and shit like that. You go to a lawyer, they’ll go fuckin crazy.”
“You suggesting I don’t?”
“I’m just saying they’re gonna attack the shit out of you. So be prepared.”
“And what about you? Will they come after you, as well?”
“They’ll try to convince me to come back. And if that doesn’t work then, yeah, they’ll attack the shit out of me, too. At the least, they’ll declare both of us SPs—suppressive persons.”
“Which means what exactly?”
“They write up these formal-looking ‘declarations’ with all the ‘crimes’ we’ve committed and distribute them to all the orgs around the world.”
“Well…these days, I don’t think they actually distribute declare notices. I think they just call all the orgs and tell em what’s going on. From then on, no one inside the church is allowed to communicate with us.”
“Like your parents?”
“Parents, family, friends…everyone,” Roxy said.
“But what if they try to communicate with you?”
“Then they get declared, too. Or at least get sent to Ethics.”
“Harsh,” I said, rolling over on my back. “And by the way, my dad said you wouldn’t have any problem enrolling at City College. Which starts in a month.”
“Good to know.”
And then she started crying really hard. Like dam-breaking hard. I reached over and took one of her hands. And lay there. Staring at the ceiling. Wasn’t sure if there was anything else I could have done. The bed shook and I forgot about being tired. I just held on to her hand and let her cry.
“Fuck,” she said some time later. “I haven’t cried in years.”
“Supposed to be therapeutic,” I replied.
She dried her eyes with the top of the sheet. “Not in the Sea Org. There…it’s a sign of weakness. Like it’s almost considered an overt.”
“Which is a crime or a sin, right?”
I kept hold her hand. Against my chest. I wanted to pull the rest of her over and wrap my arms around her. So I did. And she didn’t resist.
But she did say, “We’re not doing anything. Just so you know.”
I said, “Noted.”
We slept until ten before going out for dinner.
Dev and Cindy sat on one side of the booth. Roxy and I sat on the other. I was Dev’s best male friend. Cindy was Dev’s best friend who was a girl. Which was to say they weren’t boyfriend/girlfriend. But almost.
Because there were so few twenty-four/seven restaurants in Santa Barbara, the place was mostly full. I washed down the last bite of my grilled cheese sandwich with a sip of coffee. Roxy was halfway through her second stack of blueberry pancakes. Dev and Cindy were working on a banana split.
“Seriously,” Cindy said. “You’ve never been to an IHOP?”
“Other than a fast food place, this is the first restaurant I’ve eaten in since I was ten years old,” Roxy said.
“Didn’t make a whole lot of money in the Sea Org. Or have a whole lot of free time to spend it.”
“What did you earn?” Dev asked.
“Theoretically fifty dollars a week.”
“Most weeks we got nothing. It all depended on the stats.”
“Which is what?” Cindy asked.
“Stats. Short for statistics. In Scientology everything is statisized. Like you graph all your production to see if it’s trending up or down. If your stats are up, you’re good. If they’re down, you’re fucked.”
“And don’t get paid.”
“Something like that. And even if you did get paid, you’d barely have enough for essentials. Like clothes and toothpaste and stuff like that. Money for eating out was pretty much unheard of. Unless, of course, you were management or out on a mission somewhere.”
“What’s a mission?” Cindy asked.
“It’s like when two or three Sea Org guys go out to some org—like Santa Barbara, for example—in order to correct something or implement some new program.”
The rest of us nodded. As if everything she said made sense.
“Damn, girl,” Cindy said, “we gotta get you fixed up with shit. We’ll see you boys in while. Come on Roxy, let’s go.” She turned to Dev. “We’ll call you when we’re done.”
I wasn’t altogether sure what shit she was talking about, or where they were going but Dev and I said “bye” and watched the two walk out the front doors.
“Probably getting girl shit,” Dev said.
“At this hour?”
“There’s a twenty-four hour drug store down the block.”
I ordered a chocolate malt when the waitress came by. Dev ordered a cup of coffee.
“So…” he began. “School starts in a few weeks. You got a new girl living with in the Little House. Who has no money; no life experience; no formal education; and no friends or family except for you.”
“You pretty much nailed it,” I said.
“And the kicker is, you’re still involved in this whole Purification Rundown/Joan thing.”
“My dad and I are gonna see a lawyer tomorrow.”
The waitress returned with Dev’s coffee and my malt.
“I fuckin can’t believe you moved the body,” Dev said once she’d left. “Like what were you thinking, dude?”
“I know. I fucked up. Bigtime.”
“Well…at least Roxy seems cool. Even if you’re responsible for her and she doesn’t knows jack shit about the real world.”
“I don’t mind.”
“So far. But dude, she’s sleeping in your bed.”
“Which isn’t altogether a bad thing.”
“You guys haven’t done the deed, have you?”
I shook my head.
“You think she and Cindy are buying protection?”
“Let’s hope so. Because the last thing you need in your life is a baby. Know what I mean? Because…”
“Yeah, Dev. I know what you mean.” As if the thought hadn’t crossed my mind a thousand times already.
A stocky guy wearing a coat and tie slid in the booth next to Dev and flipped open a small leather wallet. His buzz cut made me think he’d been a Marine drill sergeant before joining the Santa Barbara Police Department. Oh, fuck. Had there been a fan anywhere near, shit would be flying.
He reached across the table with his hand. “Chip Gardner,” he said.
He may have looked like a Chip twenty years ago but not anymore. I shook his hand and leaned back in my seat.
“You been a hard man to find, Rick Shade,” he said.
“Kinda late to be out, isn’t it?” I said.
He smiled. “Where you been?”
“Out and about.”
Our waitress came by. Gardner ordered a coffee.
“How’d you find me?” I asked.
“Been looking for you for a while,” he said. As if that answered the question. Then, “Hear you were friends with Joan Macias.”
I stared at my chocolate malt. Wasn’t all that hungry anymore.
“You and she were doing something called the Purification Rundown at the local Church of Scientology. Correct?”
I nodded slowly.
“Ah, shouldn’t he have a lawyer?” Dev asked.
“I’m not here to arrest anyone,” Gardner smiled. “Just here to get some answers to a few questions.”
“At eleven o’clock at night?”
“Police work never stops.” He pulled out a little notebook—just like the ones I’d seen on TV. “So, Rick, when’s the last time you saw Ms. Macias?”
“While ago,” I answered.
“Care to narrow it down for me?”
No. I wanted to go home and lie down in my bed and go to sleep. For a couple of days. Maybe three. Then fly to Europe. I shrugged.
Gardner smiled from across the table. “Come on, Rick, help a guy out.”
“I really think you should have a lawyer with you before you say anything,” Dev said.
Gardner turned to him. “You think he needs one? Why is that?”
“I’m not saying he needs one. I’m just saying it might be good to have one around.”
“Not sure I’m following your logic, Dev. Your name is Dev, right? Devon Ostovany.”
Someone had been doing their homework.
Dev nodded. Gardner turned back to me.
“So, Rick. When’s the last time you saw Ms. Macias?”
“I told you. A while ago. I don’t remember the exact time.”
Gardner stared into my eyes. Hard. Unflinching. “Was that before or after she died?”
Dev’s phone buzzed. He glanced at the screen and slipped it back in his pocket.
“I’m thinking I really should have a lawyer with me,” I said.
“Just trying to establish the time of death, that’s all,” Garner said. “You did know she’d died, right?”
I nodded. Slowly.
“Gotta tell you, her husband was pretty torn up. They’d been married for close to thirty years.”
I became aware of my breathing and of my chest moving in and out. In and out. In and out. Dev stared at his coffee. Gardner took a sip of his but kept his eyes glued on mine. Two couples walked in the restaurant. One of the girls looked like she was being supported by one of the guys. Had probably been out clubbing. They were all smiling.
“Come on Rick, give me something,” Gardner said. “We can do this easy way…or the hard way.”
“You didn’t really just say that, did you?” Dev said.
“I know. Kinda a cliché, right?” Gardner replied. “Doesn’t make it any less true, though. So what do say, Rick? You gonna tell me the last time you saw Ms. Macias?” He held up his palms. “Here’s another cliché for you: the truth will set you free.”
When I didn’t respond he said, “Here’s an even easier one for you. Where you been these last few days?”
“Down south,” I answered.
“Care to be a little more specific?”
“Scientology headquarters. Just outside of Hemet. Southeast of LA.”
“I know where Hemet is. What were you doing there?”
“Doing more Scientology courses? Maybe finishing up your Purif? That is what they call the Purification Rundown, right? The Purif?”
“You haven’t been answering your phone,” he said.
“No reception out there.”
“So what were you doing?”
“Like you said, courses…the Purif.”
“You finish everything?”
“Why out there?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why didn’t you do all that stuff here in Santa Barbara? At the local Scientology place on State Street? You running from something? Hiding? Or were you forced by someone? Because if you were forced to be there…well, that’s a whole other story. You know, Rick…you cooperate with me, things ‘ill go a whole lot better for you. You withhold shit from me…” He shrugged.
I didn’t move.
He leaned forward. “Just so you know, I don’t think you killed Ms. Macias—Joan. I do think however that you know how she ended up in her bathtub. In her house. Care to tell me how she got there? Tell me what happened?”
“Oh, shit,” Dev mumbled.
Gardner grinned. “You see, that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid: shit. I just want to establish what happened. That’s all. So why don’t you just tell me what you know.”
One part of me wanted to tell Gardner everything. Just get it over with. Tell him the whole story. Tell him exactly what happened. From the moment I heard Joan fall from her bench in the sauna to my escape from Int Base to ice cream, pancakes, and grilled cheese sandwiches at IHOP. Another part of me said to wait until I’d talked with a lawyer. Wasn’t sure which part to trust.
Why did it matter if I had a lawyer with me if I was going to tell the truth anyway? Why not just tell Gardner what happened? Let the chips fall where they may. That’s what I’d intended to do, anyway. Tell the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. So what was holding me back?
If I got arrested and thrown in jail…I fuckin deserved it. I’d been a fool to go along with Brenda and Doug and those SO guys and their plan to move Joan. I’d been a total, fuckin, one hundred percent fool.
As if he could read my angst, Gardner said, “You want to tell me, don’t you? You want to do what’s right. It’s written all over your face.”
When I didn’t respond, he continued. “Listen, Rick, I’ve looked into your background. I’m a detective. It’s what I do.” He took a sip of coffee. “Never been arrested. Never been in trouble. Going to school. Got everything to look forward to.” He leaned back and raised his eyes at me. “You sound like a good kid.”
I didn’t say anything. Dev didn’t say anything. The restaurant seemed unnaturally quiet. As if everyone were eavesdropping on our conversation. Except nobody was. Everybody was eating and talking and involved in their own lives. Nobody gave a shit about me and my problems. The place felt quiet because I was stuck inside my head. Which wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
“Cindy texted they’ll be back soon,” Dev said.
“Uh-huh,” I replied.
Gardner said, “They? Cindy’s friend got a name?”
“Roxy,” I answered.
“These your girlfriends?”
“They got last names?”
I couldn’t see the harm in telling him. “Cindy Park and Roxy Brand.”
“Spell those for me.”
I did. Gardner scribbled in his notebook.
“Ms. Park or Ms. Brand know about what happened with Ms. Macias?” Gardner asked.
“Cindy doesn’t know anything,” Dev volunteered.
Dev glanced at me from the other side of the table but didn’t say anything. So Gardner turned his attention to me.
“What about Roxy, Rick? She know what’s going on?”
“Kinda,” I said.
“Kinda as in ‘everything?’ Or she just knows part of the story?”
“She has nothing to do with any of this.”
“Any of what?”
“Joan. Dying. Everything.”
“Speaking of which…” Gardner said. “Were you with her when she died?”
When I didn’t reply, he said, “Come on Rick. Be a man. Do the right thing. Tell me what happened.”
“You gonna arrest me?” I asked.
“Depends on what you tell me. Did you kill her?”
“Great. Then your chances of being arrested are significantly less than if you had.”
“I didn’t kill her.”
“Didn’t think you had. So…what did happen?”
Roxy and Cindy walked through the front doors. Each held a plastic bag printed with the drug store’s name in bright red letters.
“Ah…hi guys,” Cindy said, stopping in front of our table. “See you got a visitor.”
Gardner swiveled around in his seat. “Chip Gardner, SBPD.”
“The Santa Barbara Police Department?”
Cindy glanced questioningly at Dev.
“He just has a few questions for Rick. Like…he’s gathering information. Nothing to worry about. So…you guys want to wait for us in the car?”
“Might be better if you gave em a ride home,” Gardner said.
Roxy stood mute off to the side.
“Except we all came in one car, so…”
“Not to worry,” Gardner said. “I’ll be happy to give Rick a lift when we’re done here.”
A lift home or a ride to jail?
“It’s cool,” I said. “You guys take off. I’ll be okay.”
“You sure?” Dev asked.
“Yeah, don’t worry.”
Gardner slid out of the booth so Dev could escape.