"Well, well, well, if it isn't my old pal Alisa! Look at you, you haven't changed a bit" Hubbard bellowed, with a "goddam know-it-all bitch" muttered under his breath as the diminutive woman approached.
They embraced with the air kisses of false affection, their cigarettes dropping ashes down each other's backs. Rand's coterie across the pool had sad expressions, like dogs at the back door.
"My, my, Alisa, your friends over there look rather lost without you. I think we'd better join them" he said, looking at the crowd staring at them from across the pool.
"Oh, if we must. They'll just mope like that 'til I get back and start to talk. So annoying, and as for our meeting here, don't rub it in," she said poking him in the chest .
"Beg pardon?" Hubbard said not quite following her line of thought.
"This afterlife business, or whatever it is. So humiliating to be so wrong. And who's the first one to shove my nose in it? That prick, Paul the seventh." She took a long drag of her smoke and let it out pointing to a small man in a chaise lounge near the bar. She waved at him stiffly. He was a kindly looking bald man who had combined voluminous bermuda shorts with black support hose as fashion. He hoisted his cocktail in salute.
"The Pope, eh?"
"We're crawling in fucking popes here, Ronnie. Crawling in them! They're not all bad. Darling, little JP 1 is a sweetheart but he cheats at Poker. His left eye goes like this," she was scrunching up her left eye spastically, "see what I'm doing here? That's his tell. I clean him out every time."
"I'll be sure to remember that." Hubbard remarked dryly. It was going to be a long night.
They were walking around the pool when she stopped to ask him, "Where are your people? Don't you have your caretakers yet? Or are you too fresh out of the loop? How long has it been?"
"Since what?" Hubbard said with some irritation.
"Since you came-to, Ronnie. Since you woke up in this . . . place. I came-to right about the time that little bastard who stole your organization had you all drugged up in Creston. I felt bad for you, I always had a soft spot for you, even if you were a bit of a blowhard." She was smiling now. "Remember that night in Manhattan? I was staying at the Barbizon and you wanted to take me dancing. Me, an older woman." She grew awkwardly coquettish. "You were such a rake back then, Ronnnie. Such a rake. I'll never forget that you were so taken aback at how forward I was about sex. It must have been what, 1932? I had just sold my first screenplay and you had just dropped out of George Washington University. What dreams we had for the world Ronnie, what dreams!"
"Oh, it was a time, alright. I couldn't walk straight for a week!" he said, laughing nervously.
"Ach! Still the same old Hubbs," she said bitterly. "You probably don't remember a minute of it, do you?"
"Of course I do. I had seven dollars and sixty cents to my name, and I took you to that high-class, mob speakeasy up in Harlem. We had quite the repast and danced all night . . ."
"And we walked out with that seven-sixty still in your pocket, as I recall." she said with eyebrow raised. "How did you do that, Ronnie? I never did find out."
"Misdirection, dear Alisa, misdirection. That poor goombah at the door was so confused and flustered by the time I was through with him . . ."
"So was I, Ronnie. So was I."
"Oh, now, let's don't play the wounded flower, dear. You're one tough customer 'Ayn,' I learned a lot from you." He emphasized her nom de plume with no small amount of sarcasm.
"Don't I know it." she said wearily. She looked over at her followers clustered around the table where she'd been talking with them. They looked like they were going to burst if she didn't come back over to them. "Ronnie, I'm parched, lets get another drink, shall we? Then, I'll introduce you around."
They continued around the pool, and back to the waiting acolytes who mobbed her with attention, shutting Hubbard out of their circle.
"Back!" he heard her shout as the group of men and young women backed away from her deferentially. They looked like they had just been caught chewing on the couch, and skulked off to the sidelines, leaving more of the other guests in view.
"Now, Ronnie, I believe you know Joe and Brigham?" Sure enough, there were the two founders of Mormonism. Joseph looked as impeccable as he had the night he ushered Hubbard into the cab with that awful little man (Mental Note: he'd need to audit that memory out). And, Brigham, well, nobody seemed to even notice the blood. Most likely everybody here was used to it, or worse. The pair held up pink drinks that looked like Shirley Temples in a toast. "And, I believe you know Mrs. Eddy." The woman who had watched him write (and god knows what else) stood under a tiki torch a good ten feet away. She looked at him furtively, waved weakly, and looked quickly away. "She's a charmer alright" Ayn Rand said sarcastically. "Oh, there's someone you really should know, Ronnie, my dear comrade and my mentor when I first got here." She moved into a crowd around a table and returned with a smiling, tan, stocky man in tow. He was sporting a bushy, sun-bleached beard and his head was covered with a broad straw hat. A loud Hawaiian shirt, white shorts and huaraches rounded out his overly casual appearance. The men at the table he'd been plucked from were similarly disheveled.
"Que pasa, Ron!" he said with a thick Russian dialect. "You call me Vlad! Such a crazy thing this is, no? What you drinking, Ron?" Vlad waved at a bespectacled man with a thick shock of misbehaving hair, who he'd been sitting next to at the table. "Leon! Amigo! Mas cerveza por favor!"
"Uh, I think I had a Mai Tai if I'm not mistaken" said Ron looking under his tiny umbrella. "I could definitely use another one."
"Leon!" Vlad barked again "You heard the man, a Mai Tai, tovarich!" The man in the loud shirt turned back to Hubbard "We get you hooked up my friend. Leon is fantastic bartender." Leon was now busy in the thatched-roofed, outdoor bar, chipping away nervously at a block of ice with a big silver pick.
"Well, it looks like you two are getting along famously" Rand said slinking up to wrap her arm around Vlad's muscular torso. Two of Rand's male followers glared at them.
Hubbard looked this Vlad character up and down. What did she see in this beach bum?
"So, uh, Vlad, what do you do here, or should I say what did you do . . . you know, back . . . then . . . before?" He was unsure of how to refer to one's former existence.
"Really? You don't know? Well, I give you hint. Back then it was all proletariat this, and workers that, you know? The USSR? The October revolution? I make this? Lenin? Rings a bell, no?"
"The hell you say! Vladimir Lenin? Alisa?" He was completely shocked. They'd always hated communism with such passion.
"Oh Ronnie, we were all going to change the world, weren't we? Vlad was no different. He had such good intentions Ron, you have no idea. Suffered such loss! Things haven't exactly gone well for his endeavors in the last half century or so. You think your successor was a little monster? Well Vlad's was the monster of the century. How would you like to have that on your conscience? Your little tyrant squirreled away a few hundred mil, slapped a few executives and broke up a few families, boo hoo. His killed tens of millions!"
Vlad interjected, "You have no idea, Ron. After I die, everything goes south. Then every time some jackass thug pins a red star on his hat, kills a few million people and it gets laid at my feet. Not fair Ronnie, not fair at all. I tell you this, if that slob Stalin ever comes out of his loop, I don't know what I'll do to him. But as it stands now he spends his days burying the dead at a vast, ugly gulag along the Kolyma. Day after day. Over and over again. He can rot there forever for all I care."
"Excuse me, but may I cut in here?" said a sleekly elegant, blonde woman. Her bleached hair was pulled back in a chignon and she wore white linen capri pants and bolero jacket over an olive green halter top. She had come click-clacking out of the crowd on impossibly high heels and inserted herself forcefully between Rand and Hubbard. "Ayn, cara mia, who is this man and why have I not met him?" She turned to Hubbard and grasped his arm, "Señor," she said breathlessly, "my name is Maria Eva Duarte de Perón . . ." She paused expectantly for some kind of recognition to set in. When it wasn't forthcoming, she continued," . . . and what is yours?"
The woman was so intense Hubbard actually backed away slightly, he thought she might try to eat him.
"Down girl" said Ayn. "Really Eva, give the man some room to breathe, piranhita. I'm sorry Ron, someone is a bit starved for fresh meat."
Ron was flattered, "I remember you, my dear. I seem to remember hearing a recording of the musical about your life Mrs. Perón. What was the song? Don't Cry For Me . . ."
". . . Argentinaaaaaa!" the blonde woman sang painfully, "the truth is I never left you. All through my wil . . ."
"Enough Eva! Whose party is this anyway? Mine, that's whose. You write a book and we'll hold one for you, now run along! Vamoose muchacha!" Rand shooed the dejected blond into the cocktail crowd. The combo started playing a jazzy version of that very song and Eva was making a noisy attempt at getting up on the bandstand to sing.
Lenin looked pained. "I better go ward off disaster, bublitchka. I see you later, up in suite. Good to meet you Ronnie! See you round the circuit." he walked toward Eva who was tussling with the vocalist of the jazz combo. "Eva, baby, look over here! Let's go get cocktail . . ."
"I don't know what I'd do without him." Ayn took Ron's arm and they strolled toward the bar. "Well, Ronnie, we really are a couple of pikers aren't we? I mean compared to most of these folks here, we barely made a dent in history."
"Well, now, Alisa, I wouldn't say tha . . ." Ron began to protest, but she cut him off.
"Ron. For all my writing and lecturing, all I managed to accomplish was to create a slavishly unthinking, pampered, selfish whining class. Reason without compassion is monstrous, Ron. Monstrous. And you? You really haven't had time to see what's been done in your name, have you?" She looked softer. Concerned. "I suppose you really haven't had the time to unpack all that you've done. It isn't fun Ronnie. If it weren't for Vlad . . ." she trailed off.
"Exactly what's been done in my name? Joe and Brigham went on about how I made mistakes and started to show me some computer thing the other day with Mike Rinder and something about Miscavige and buildings. I couldn't really follow, to be honest."
They reached the bar and the bespectacled man with the wild hair handed him a fresh Mai Tai. "I think you find this one a bit better than hotel drink" said the Russian.
Hubbard pulled the umbrella out, ate the fruit off the stick and took a sip. It was spectacularly strong. "Well, Leon, that's a hell of a drink you've made there! What do I owe you?"
"Introspection, Ron. Real introspection" he said with intensity. And with a curt salute, he returned to the group of scruffy, bearded beachcombers at the table by the pool.
"What the hell did he mean by that, Alisa?" He felt the weight of the charm bracelet in his pocket and willed away the fresh memories that were bound to it.
"Let me see it, Ron." Ayn was holding out her hand expectantly.
"Aw, fercrissakes, not you too! Can everyone here read my mind?" he said.
Again, a sudden silence. No music. No talking. And everyone was looking straight at him. Time, or whatever passed for it in this place, stopped.
"Ron!" Ayn was shaking him violently now. "Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, snap out of it!"
Everything slammed back to normal. What the hell was that time stopping thing? It was just like the incident with those drunk men back at the Bulgravia Arms.
"What is that, Alisa? Why can't I do it? And don't tell me it takes time." He was really spooked.
"It's a feature of this continuum, Ron. You do get used to it after a while. But don't change the subject, back to the business at hand. The bracelet please. There are clues in it, if you look for them."
He reached into his pocket with his free hand and pulled out the gold bracelet. He handed it to Ayn/Alisa and she examined each one carefully.
"Ah! See? This one, here. The little mask. You know what that one's about?" she asked.
"The Three Musketeers?" Ron said uncertainly.
"No! It's Guy Fawkes, the famous traitor. He plotted to blow up Parliament."
"In England? Does this have something to do with St. Hill?" he wondered.
"There's been a development. A group formed recently. A group opposed to Scientology, Ronnie. Anonymous. He's their symbol. The protestors wear that mask for anonymity."
"Protestors? Well, we'll find out who they are and sue them. We'll ruin them, that's what we'll do!" Ron was getting agitated at this news.
"It's not so easy Ron, not with the internet. Nobody is afraid of your lawyers anymore. Everyone knows all your secrets. I mean OT-III, let's face it, hon, it wasn't really your best work, now was it?"
He leaned in closely to her. He was almost whispering, "Alisa, I . . . I was so high when I wrote that. I really thought it was true. My followers, they were lapping up the Space Opera stuff. I think I was convinced that it was a real memory . . . I thought . . ."
Ayn interrupted him. "Oh, and this one. It's the symbol at the Trementina base, the one you can see from orbit!" She was fingering a filigree charm, made up of two interlocked circles with two interlocked diamond shapes.
"Trementina? What in Sam Hill is that?" His life was, evidently, weirder than he thought.
"It was a project of Miscavige's, to create an underground bunker where all of your works could be stored on steel plates in titanium caskets for eternity. There are several bases, actually."
"What? How the hell much did he spend on . . . " then he did an unintentionally comedic doubletake, "did you say 'eternity?'" He was warming up to the idea. It sounded important. But his reverie was short lived. Taking form before him was an interesting sight. If he wasn't mistaken, The King of Rock and Roll was charging angrily toward him from the lobby door, with a gaggle of excited young women trailing behind.
Hubbard was instinctively calculating an escape route. The singer looked like he meant to do him some real harm. The cocktail crowd parted like the Red Sea for Moses. Elvis was nearly upon him when Ron suddenly found himself surrounded by . . . girls. They were his messengers, come to protect Source.
Ayn thought it was quite a sight. Two grown men, surrounded by posses of young women, facing off by a swimming pool.
"Outta the way, babes!" the King snarled angrily.
Hubbard gathered more of the girls in front of him.
Elvis ratcheted the tone, "Come outta there! You messed with the wrong country boy's family you sonofabitch!"
He had to be talking about Priscilla and Lisa Marie. Hubbard remembered reading GO reports of the effort to secure her back in the '70s. This could get out of hand quickly.
"Elvis! Elvis, stop it now! We can all talk abou this like adults!" Ayn was hopping up and down in front of Elvis' caretaker/fans, holding her hands up in front of her (as if she could stop them). "Please, you know how I feel about displays of force. This is my soirée and I won't have it." She was getting the upper hand, now. Elvis was visibly calming down.
"That bast . . ." Rand shot him a look. "uh, sorry, ma'am, that man over there, conned my ex-wife and my beautiful little girl out of millions of dollars That was my money he stole! My money!" It looked like Presley was getting hot under the collar again.
Elvis looked young. This wasn't the fat, druggie Elvis that Hubbard had mocked when he died in 1977. This was the sleek, young Elvis that his fans remembered from the '60s. Elvis had rudely rejected Ron's overtures to visit the Celebrity Center and Hubbard never forgot it. His famous sneer was now directed at Hubbard.
"Aw, hell, I guess it really doesn't matter, anymore. My little girl's all grown up and she told you where to go, Mister. Called your cult worse shit than I did, and she did it in song. Ain't that a kick?" He was laughing with pride now.
What did he mean by that? Did Lisa Marie blow? Was she a musician now? Hubbard was too fresh out of the loop to follow a lot of the facts being thrown at him. But he surely didn't appreciate the joking and degrading from this fellow. He thought he should put an end to this with a display of humility. "So, uh, I suppose we might just shake hands and be done with this disagreement." Hubbard said as casually and affably as he could.
The singer regarded Ron suspiciously. Then Rand poked Elvis in the side and said "shake," like she was scolding a bad dog. An "aw shucks" look washed across the King's face and his girls parted for him. Hubbard wasn't taking any chances and reached through two layers of messengers to shake Elvis' hand.
And that was it. The King turned away and went to sit with the Russians, though his fans continued to give Ron the stink eye.
A mixture of relief and guilt swirled through Hubbard. He wanted to kick himself. He had hidden behind teenage girls! He hoped it wasn't too obvious to everyone else. With the danger past, his young messengers turned their attention back toward him. The dozen lovely young ladies were wearing their CMO dress whites, and they all appeared to between 15 and 20 years of age. They fussed over him, one brushed off his suit, another lit a fresh Kool and placed it in his mouth and one proffered a clean ashtray, while another took his drink and held it at the ready. Funny. He didn't recognize any of them. They all seemed to know him though.
"So, where are you girls from?" he asked in a fatherly tone.
They said nothing. They just smiled blankly and stood by a few feet away.
"They won't talk much, Ronnie. They're caretakers. They aren't real people, so they don't have much to say. To paraphrase Dickens, they're the chains we forged in life . . . or something. None of us know much about what's behind this continuum, but the caretakers are part of the package. Not the sharpest tools in the shed. There are a few who might join you who were alive once. But you'll recognize them. They won't be so . . . generic.
Come to think of it, all these girls looked like they could be sisters. Blonde. Tall. Shapely. At least they seemed better behaved than Elvis' excitable troop. "Will they do my bidding?"
"Anything. But take care. Sid and I think they might be some kind of test." She looked deadly earnest.
"Ah, Sid. So you know the ol' Buddha, then?"
"Of course, we all do. We're all big fish in this small pond, Ronnie. Some of us are just bigger than others." She shrugged and took his arm again, shooing the messengers away. "Leave us girls, he's safe now." The messengers moved away to sit over by the fire pit. They never took their eyes off him.
"So, uh, Alisa," he cleared his throat nervously, "what do I do next? How will I know where to go? I was on my way back to my hotel when I ended up here? Should I try to go back to that awful flea bag?"
"If it's still there. It may not be. You see, we're not sure any of this is really here. Things are so fluid at times. Here," she said pressing an object into his hand, "I want you to have this, it has my number in it." It was one of Steve Job's Apple phones. She showed him how to turn it on and how you would slide your finger around and the screens would change function. Then she introduced him to Siri.
After his lesson Ron asked, "So, is she, um, real, this Suri?"
"Siri" Ayn corrected him.
"Whatever, what I mean is, does she understand my questions?"
"As far as I can tell, it's just a program in the phone's memory, but as I said, things are fluid. Just say, 'Siri, call Ayn, and pronounce it correctly, Ron or you'll get somebody else, I really don't go by Alisa anymore."
"Well, you'll always be Alisa to me." Were those feelings again? Affection? Regret? Resentment? They mixed together and swam around in his head until he shook them off.
"It's been a long night Ronnie, I think I'll go up and join Vlad, have a nice fuck and get some sleep." She watched him for a reaction.
"You still know how to make a fellow blush, now don't you, Alisa?"
"Good night, Ron. I'll be seeing you around." And with a peck on the cheek, she walked back to her pack of followers. "Alright! Alright! Who has to tinkle before bed? Come on everyone, let's go . . ."
The party was winding down. The Russians were heading inside with some other party goers. Joe and Brigham were nowhere to be seen. A few Sea Org drones were cleaning up and that Perón woman was leaving with the band. She saw Hubbard and mouthed "I'll call you" pantomiming a phone with her hand. He waved back, somewhat relieved and turned back to find his messengers, but they were gone. Hmmm. Did they only show up when you were in trouble? And where did they go when they went? It was all just as well that it was ending. He was tired now.
The hotel was ablaze in floodlights. He didn't remember it being quite this grand back in his day. There was a chorus of frogs somewhere out in the warm night. The frog's shrill call combined with the sweet perfume of jasmine on the warm air was quite beautiful. The grit and racket of R6 City seemed a distant memory. He walked down the long colonnade toward his room, reminiscing about the first time he saw Clearwater, and how he pulled the wool over the eyes of those chumps on the city council back in '75. He was thinking that his 'United Churches of Florida' scam really was a bit of genius, when he heard someone crying. It sounded like a girl.
He saw where the tears were coming from. There was a young messenger sitting in front of his door, she was hugging her knees with her head down. Her long blonde hair covered her like a golden mantilla. He never knew what to do when someone was crying, so he said "Now, what could a Commodore's Messenger possibly have to cry about?" trying to sound kindly.
Ayn had said he might recognize one of his messengers someday, and he did, the instant a 12 year-old Shelly Barnett looked up at him, red-eyed, sobbing, "I hate . . . him, sir. I . . . hate him so fucking much."