"Never thought you'd see me again, did you?" said Geoffrey Quentin McCaully Hubbard.
The elder Hubbard was silent. He wouldn't look at the slight young man before him. He backed away and started pacing small patterns like a trapped cat, he was looking for that cab driver. "You goddamn A-rab sonofabitch! Is this some kind of fucking joke? Was this your idea, you goddamn bastard?! Where are you?" Ron yelled into the dark.
He could just make out the cabbie dancing among the blue runway lights beyond the fence, he was singing something Hubbard didn't recognize. He looked back toward his . . . he couldn't even think of the word 'son.' He thrust a pudgy finger toward Quentin, "you better not be here to blame me for . . . this!" he sneered, gesturing toward the idling Sunbird. "Do you know what you did to your mother? What kind of shitstorm you caused me? What the hell is this, anyway? Some kind of This is Your Afterlife bullshit?" He muttered to himself as he paced, agitation building. He looked like he was desperately searching for a way for all of this go just go away. He stopped in front of Quentin. "Well, 'son,'" he said acidly, "I'm not playing this goddam game. No sir. This is madness, that's what it is. It's mad!" Where the hell was that cabbie? "Habibi! Hab . . . bib!" he yelled again. And in yelling, his voice cracked and he started hacking violently. He was bent over gasping between coughs.
"Sir, are you alright? Quentin asked. He put his hand on his father's back, who instantly recoiled from the touch. "Get the . . . hell . . . away from me!" he half-coughed, half-gasped."You're not Quentin. I don't know who the hell you are, what kind of operation this is, but you're not him. You're not!"
One thing Quentin was sure of: this was definitely his father.
Until now, this new existence had been so wonderful. Flying lessons. Learning to cook. Watching the planes come and go from his tidy home at The Airport. Studying his flight manuals. And then there was Noah. Until Noah showed up, it had been lonely, but when he came into Quentin's world, everything just lit up. But now, with his father, fat and red-faced in front of him, all the darkness came back. The constant upheaval. St. Hill The Apollo, and Flag. Brutish, paranoid, cruel Flag. The Sec Checks. The stats. The expectations. That last RPF. The closet. The lies. The gripping fear of his own father. All of it, back with this huffing, lumpen monster.
"Don't you understand, Dad? Couldn't you see? I just wanted to fly. That was all I ever wanted." Then, it all came pouring out, "You still don't get it! Thanks to you and your bullshit church, I hated my own life. Your own child hated his life! Everything always had to be about you! About our eternity! Well, 'Daddy,' I wanted to fuck you and your church up, and . . . and," he was hyperventilating at this point, "I false reported and ran because I wanted out. I wanted to fly. And Dad, I did." He softened as he caught his breath again, "I flew. And omigod, it was so beautiful. That first lesson in an old Cessna 172, Dad . . . you have no idea. I remember going back to my motel that night and feeling so free. Free enough to . . ." Quentin paused, thought better of his train of thought and continued, "Well, free enough." The son turned away from the father to face the depths of the desert night. "But the next morning, I knew. I knew you'd find me and that I'd cave, and it'd be the RPF and then the RPF's RPF, and more of the dark." There was a long pause, "I don't remember doing it," he looked over toward the still-fuming car, "I really don't. But here I am, so I guess I did. I did do it . . . didn't I?"
Hubbard looked away. He'd never heard so much as a disagreement pass the boy's lips before. This was new. They stood back to back for a moment, arms crossed in exactly the same pose.
"The next thing I knew, I was in . . ." Quentin paused and stared up at the vault of stars overhead, ". . . well, another place, not far from here. They said you'd turn up. And here you are, exactly the same as always."
"The same as what? How would you know anything about me. You weren't interested in anything I did, in my life's work. I offered you the world on a platter and it meant nothing to you. Nothing!"
"Brigham and Joe said you'd be exactly the same, and you are." Quentin was looking down at his shoes. This behavior was something that made Ron seethe with anger when his child was young. No confront! The little sissy had no confront then, but he seemed different now.
"The Mormons? How do you know about them?" Ron demanded.
"They sent for me a few days ago, two Missionaries came to my hangar."
"You have a hangar?" Hubbard seemed taken aback. The kid had finally done something impressive evidently.
Quentin looked slowly up from his shoes, until he was staring directly into the old man's beady eyes. "I have whatever I want, now, and you're really not on my flight plan."
Quentin turned away from his flabbergasted father and resumed his stargazing. He began moving his hands about like they were two planes in a dogfight. Another habit that drove Hubbard to distraction once upon a time.
The two of them stood there in the dark, dirt lot in frozen silence. It was then that Hubbard noticed one of the stars blazing in the velvet black growing brighter. Slowly at first, then increasing in brightness and moving laterally in the sky. One light resolved into two distinct lights and then he could hear it, the whine of jet engines on approach. He looked over at Quentin, who was now lining up his airfoil/hands with the approaching jet. It looked big, really big. It was clearly coming in for a landing. The vast, plane, maybe a 747 or something equally huge, was almost upon them now and looked as though it would set down on the runway, just beyond the fence. As it passed over the thin pines at the end of the lot, Ron could see that it was a glistening white in the moonless moonlight, and on the floodlit tail was the same huge, red, winged horse he had seen at the gas station. The plane swept majestically past, and disappeared behind the trees to land quietly in the distance. After a few seconds, there was the roar of the reverse thrusters, and then the four engines spooled down to a soft keening, and the night was quiet again.
Quentin was lost in the reverie, "home" he said to himself. He smiled.
"Well, now what?" Ron snapped.
Quentin was pointing past him now, and said "I think that's my ride."
Ron turned around and saw that the plane that had just landed had pulled off the runway and was taxiing toward them. The tarmac ended just past the fence where they were standing and soon the screaming engines drowned out something Quentin was saying. The landing lights were blazing right at them, and out of the brightness came a small figure dancing animatedly towards the the father and son that stood on the other side of the chain link.
"Mo!" Quentin yelled. "Q-bird!" the cabbie responded waving his cap. The disheveled man who had driven him across the desert was now dressed in an immaculate, white airline captain's uniform with the red Pegasus symbol on the bill. "Time to go home Quentin. You drive," said the cabbie, slapping the preflight checklist across Quentin's chest.
Quentin's eyes lit up "You're kidding, right? I'm not rated on a 380!" he yelled over the now idling turbofans.
"You are now" replied the captain. He put his arm around Quentin and they walked toward a set of towering airstairs that had just pulled up to the plane. Before they reached the bottom stair, Mo looked back over his shoulder at Ron. It was a look of pity and it felt like a bullet. Quentin was talking animatedly as the two of them walked up to the open door. A young man in a tee shirt and jeans met them at the top step. He hugged Quentin in the doorway, the Captain put his hands on their shoulders, and the three of them disappeared into the plane. A steady beeping heralded the departure of the truck carrying the airstairs, as the main cabin door was secured by what looked like the boy from the old gas station.
L. Ron Hubbard watched them enter the cockpit where he could see Quentin taking the pilot's chair. He was laughing with the cabbie and the man who greeted them. The cabbie settled into the copilot's seat. After a while the engines spooled up briefly to a sharp shriek and the plane began its long taxi to the opposite side of the airport.
In those moments, Hubbard felt a weird mixture of pride and . . . was that regret? It was hard to say. These feelings collided and blended in him until the plane came roaring back down the runway, began its rotation and took to its cushion of air, passing almost directly over him. And as the plane climbed into the moonless moonlight, the pride and regret faded, and the cold resentment of what Quentin had done to him returned to cover him like a familiar blanket of snow.
The plane's lights receded into the inky dark, soon all he could see were the wingtip strobes. He looked around, the ancient Checker was gone, as was the Pontiac. It was silent once again. His resentment settled to a dull roar and he set about the business of what to do next, and that was find a ride. He started back toward the highway on the road that led to this godforsaken patch of desert. He had walked for about a fifteen minutes when he really began to panic. The vast dark of the desert and a sense of loneliness he'd never known before gripped him. He fumbled for the pack of Kools in his shirt pocket. Gone. They must've fallen out in the cab. This already long night seemed longer still.
Maybe he should have headed out into the airport instead of retracing his steps like this–who could tell what to do in this bizarre reality? He ached to sit down, and as he formed that thought, he saw an old fashioned bus stop up ahead with a small shelter and a bench. A metal sign read 'Route 422 - Wheatstone Bridge.' That seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Nothing else, though. No timetable, nothing. It didn't matter. The bench felt like a feather bed to him at this point. He was exhausted and despite what had just happened and, the unfamiliar cocktail of emotions heated by a wicked nic fit, the old man leaned back onto the shelter wall and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The sound of talking woke him. Someone was speaking in a clipped Oxford accent. He opened his eyes. In the hint of dawn he saw . . . something. They were lights or . . . were they eyes? Yes, they looked like sinister white eyes, about 20 feet down on the opposite shoulder of the road. He sat up and let the sleep roll off of him. As his wits coalesced, he could see that they weren't eyes after all, but that they were lights on the front of some sleek, futuristic car. They looked like they were drawn on with light. Strange. The voice came from an elegantly dressed man standing next to the car. The man was talking into some kind of handset, and Hubbard could make out another man in the front passenger seat. The man on the phone stopped talking when he saw Hubbard looking at him, and began to walk across the road toward him, arms open in greeting.
"Maitreya! We've found you at last! Come along then, we don't want to miss the keynote!"