"We have good news for you, sir. The Prophet has sent for you" said the taller of the two blonde boys visible through the sliver of open door. "It's very exciting–a celestial honor!" blurted the other, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
"Prophet?" Hubbard said, mostly to himself. He still felt the rush of adrenalin from the incident with the men in the street, and he sure as hell didn't recognize these two squeaky-clean clowns in the hall.
"What the hell do you want from me, who sent you, do you run this place?" Ron said.
"May we come in? You've been invited to an audience with the Prophet, sir."
"I don't give a shit about your Prophet and his honor, if you're not gonna tell me where the hell I am then get the hell out of here!" Hubbard began to close the door when the taller boy shoved a shiny black wingtip in the jamb.
"Please, sir, The Prophet sent us. Doesn't that mean anything to you? He has the answers to all your questions, sir!"
With a strained "sonofabitch, Hubbard threw his considerable girth against the door, which being thin, old and oft repaired, gave way on the word "bitch," with a splintering crash, and the three of them landed in a heap in the hall.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was, from his supine position, releasing a stream of colorful invective, the definitions of which the two missionaries could only begin to guess. They pulled the shards of broken door off of the raging writer and tried to help him to his feet.
"Oh, my goodness, sir, this is not what we planned at all, sir," the tall one implored, "I am elder Orbel Clayton, and this is Elder LaForrest Mayes, and we are missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and we've come with an urgent missive for you" elder Clayton said, dusting himself off.
"Oh, yes, very . . . urgent, sir, very . . . very . . . urgent" the stout elder Mayes huffed as he tugged ineffectually on Hubbard's arm. But Ron was having none of it. Having exhausted his extensive vocabulary of expletives, he lay heaving and wheezing on the ratty carpeting, covered in splinters, and with each fumbling apology and flustered attempt to raise him, the more irate he became until a look of wide-eyed awareness washed over his face.
"Mormons!" Hubbard said, looking rather pleased with himself. "Goddam sonofabitching Mormons!" And with that he started to laugh, and the more he laughed the funnier the situation seemed to him and the cycle would start all over again. This went on for some time much to the missionaries dismay.
Beet red and flushed with exertion, Hubbard managed to get to his feet. He felt . . . better. Laughing felt incredible. He hadn't laughed, really laughed like this since the day he and Sarah took off with poor old Jack Parson's money and headed east to buy some boats. That seemed like a million years ago. "Okay fellas, you got me. Mormons. And you say old man Smith is here, and he has answers? Well, you'd better not be out ethics, don't try to bullshit an old bullshitter, boys, that'll never do."
"P-p-please, just come with us, sir. All will be revealed," elder Mayes sputtered. Ron stopped for a moment to regard the ruin that had been his door. He wondered if that dirty cherub would fix it.
"Just a minute fellas, let me grab my cigarettes and we'll be on our way."
The two looked at him with horror. "Oh, no sir, no tobacco!"
"The hell you say, boy! You want me to come along or not?"
The two strangers looked at each other nervously, "very well" said elder Clayton, "but no smoking in the car, it's new."
"Mmmmhmm" Hubbard mumbled sarcastically into his freshly-lit Kool. "Well, let's see what we can see, boys!" and with that, they made their way down to the dismal hall to the elevator.
As the cage of the lift opened to the lobby, Hubbard marveled at the growing awareness that he had somehow known this place before. Like everything in his world now, the dinge-tinted room before him with its grubby black and white tile floor, and slow ceiling fans was intimately familiar and yet, totally strange at the same time. Thin, nervous bookies and full-bodied hookers, looking for all the world like characters from a Damon Runyon story filled out the cliched scene. The night-manager, a spindly old man wearing a green visor nodded at him as Hubbard walked past the security-caged desk, down the chipped stairs and out into the seedy alley.
In front of the Bulgravia Arms Hotel, a huge, iridescent white station wagon, (or was it a truck?) waited for him at the curb. It was immaculately clean and looked quite out of place on the greasy pavement. The word "Escalade" was embossed into a long silver spear that ran the length of the doors. It looked expensive. Elder Clayton opened the back door with a flourish motioning for Hubbard to get in. The two young elders got into the front, with Orbel riding shotgun and LaForrest taking the wheel. He studied the controls as if he had never been in a car before. He stared helplessly at the dash.
"How do I make it go, again?" said elder Mayes nervously.
"It's running, now put your foot on the brake pedal" hissed Orbel. The engine roared.
"Not that one! The other one! Okay, calm down . . . calm down, it's okay." Orbel tried to be consoling as Elder Mayes looked like he might cry at any moment. "Just put your foot on the brake, and put the car in gear like we did before, have faith elder, have faith." LaForrest Mayes pointed at the column shifter with a pleading expression. "That's the one," Clayton said. He pulled the lever into "D" and the SUV lunged forward, up onto the curb and took out a row of empty trash cans before thudding back down onto the street and heading into the night.
"Well, that went well . . ." Hubbard muttered under his breath.
There wasn't another car on the road, though there were plenty parked (or on blocks) along the dark streets. Hubbard watched a strange-yet-familiar world gliding past. Bars, pawn shops, flop houses and empty lots gave way to a boarded-up business district. Everything looked like a set, like they were on the old Warner back lot. This street looked like the '30s. The next like 1940s New York, and what was this, London? No, it might be Los Angeles, or maybe New York?
The city streets became highways which became an oversized parody of a freeway some 16 lanes wide. The broad ribbon of asphalt reeled hypnotically toward him and eventually Hubbard dozed off into a dreamless sleep. The sensation of descending woke him up just as they passed below a huge sign marked "Exit 42 Zion Parkway." They passed glittering shopping malls and gas stations and on toward vast subdivisions of huge, identical homes. They seemed to spread out in all directions. A floodlit sign on the left said "Move on Up to Mountain Meadows! 6-10 bedroom homes from the low 650s," and as they turned into the development, huge gates emblazoned with the cursive double M logo, opened automatically to let them pass. The streets and sidewalks were immaculate and incredibly broad with row after row of cookie-cutter mansions on street after look-alike street. After several turns they pulled up to the only lit house on the street, Nº. 49, Isaiah Way. Houses stretched as far as Hubbard could see in either direction, like when he'd stood between two mirrors at his tailor's in London and thought he'd glimpsed infinity.
"Here we are! Safe and sound!" chirped elder Clayton with a forced sort of smile. Elder Mayes seemed . . . fragile, and sat, staring straight ahead, still clutching the wheel, breathing deeply while the cooling engine ticked and pinged.
"Is he alright?" Ron asked Orbel who was in the process of helping him out of the huge vehicle.
"Oh, he'll be fine. He just needs to rest a bit. He means well." The night was cooler here and deathly silent. He could smell the smell of a million freshly mowed lawns and the sky was a blaze of stars. Over the rooftops, in the distance, he could see what appeared to be the spires of a vast white temple in a blaze of floodlights. It looked like there was a gold cherub on top of the tallest one. He thought of his dirty, surly visitor and shuddered. Just then the oversized front door opened and he saw a man silhouetted in the warm house light.
"Come in Brother Hubbard, I've been waiting for you."