'Commodore' the girl had said, 'Now, that's more like it,' thought Hubbard. And such a lovely young lady, too. Tall and attractive in her crisp navy suit. He noticed that she was wearing a charm bracelet filled with strangely familiar symbols. He'd given Mary Sue such a bracelet with a charm for each child (of hers) when Arthur was born. But this one was different. He noticed an ARC triangle. A tiny cherub. A gorilla. That angel from the Mormon spire. A crescent moon. A buddha. An odd, grinning man's face wearing a wide brimmed hat (a Musketeer?) and dozens of others.
The young woman saw that he was staring at it. "Isn't it pretty? Each one means something very special. I love how they jingle!" she chirped, shaking her wrist merrily.
He smiled and then he caught his reflection in the mirrored wall of the front desk and recoiled. He looked like a bum.
"Would you like me to show you to your room, Sir?" the young woman said with a note of concern.
Hubbard took one more sweep of the lobby to see if Sid had followed him in. Empty, except for a couple of Sea Org cadets pushing a cart of bulging file folders who snapped crisp salutes as they passed. "Well, I suppose I can't refuse an offer like that from a lovely young lady like you," he said suavely, unable to resist turning on the charm, even in his present state.
"Do you have any baggage with you today, Commodore?" she asked earnestly.
"No, no, I'm, uh, traveling light, you see. Top secret business." He had now turned the charm up to 11. "This getup, the stubble. You see, I've been doing a bit of research into the Whole Track. Very hush, hush, you know."
"Oh, Yes, sir. Of course . . ." Lisa said, nodding conspiratorially.
Was she stifling a laugh? She'd better not be. Maybe she was just sneezing. 'Don't be so paranoid,' he thought.
The young woman turned and began searching for a room key in the rows of boxes. They were all empty except for one. She pulled the key out . . . "One seventy four!" she said holding the key up triumphantly. She was displaying a little too much verve for Hubbard. He loathed a simulacrum of enthusiasm. "It's the Tropical Terrace Room for you, sir!" the young lady said rather theatrically. She seemed to be doing her best to evoke the mystery of the islands.
Hubbard felt a twinge of . . . something. 'What was she up to?' he thought. But now she had him by the hand and was leading him through the lobby at an ever quickening pace.
"Oh, you are going to love this room, Commodore! It has all the comforts, sir, all the comforts. And it has peace and quiet. Your research can continue in complete and total silence. Like I said, you're going to love it!" They were almost jogging at this point. She was growing more manic as they approached the room. Lisa was squeezing his hand really hard now, and, if he was going to be honest, she was getting a bit scary.
She released his purpling hand. The front desk girl was shaking as she put the key into the door. Alarming at first, she was just getting annoying now. The young woman finally got the door open and without taking her eyes off him, she bowed dramatically, scraping low to usher him in.
All at once she sprang into action. Miss Lisa McPherson, Clear, was now speeding around like a coke fiend. "This, this, this is the door. The door. The door! The doooooooor!" she sang in a fake operatic voice followed by shrill giggles. "The closet door! The cabinet door! The door to the bathrrrrroom. The commode-door!" A shrill laugh, then, "the bathroom is for, well . . ." she cackled hysterically, her voice pitched high, "the bathroom is for shitting shit all over the place!" More uncontrolled cackling, almost crying now. "Shitting shit, shitting shit, shitty, shitty, shit-shit . . . SHIT!" she was barely able to get the last 'shit' out when she suddenly resumed with enhanced intensity, "the windows, you can see through them. See? See how you can see? Outside. Through the glass?" More cry/laughing. "These are drawers you can put . . ."
"Stop! Shut up! Just shut up!" Hubbard bellowed. "For gods sake, be quiet and get your restimulated ass out of here! You, young lady, are clearly stuck in some kind of incident! Go get some auditing! Out!" The young woman was now out of control veering between tears and hysterical laughter. He steered her to the door, pulled the key from the lock, and with a final shove, ejected her out into the colonnade. He slammed the door behind her.
That was strange. The young woman stopped laughing the second he shut the door. Like turning off a switch. Well, it didn't matter. Maybe he could finally get some rest and clean up.
Hubbard turned around and headed back toward the . . . bed. Wait. Where was the furniture? And what was that smell? There was furniture when he came in here a moment ago, and art on the walls, but now the room was stripped, save for a mattress on the floor. But the walls. The walls were smeared with . . . well, he didn't want to know. He pulled his sweater collar up over his face. No use. It was gagging.
Well, he may have been exterior for 28 years, but he was still the Commodore, goddamit, and he was going to get to the bottom of this. He charged for the door in a right fury. But something stopped his hand as he reached for the doorknob. A fear. A terror, really. He froze.
This was silly. He was already dead, what the hell could happen to him? But that dread. It was the girl. He could feel her there, right other side of the door. Just . . . there, waiting for him. There was no peep hole in the door, but he knew it. He could feel it. He put his hand on the door and it was freezing cold, so cold he was afraid his hand would stick to it. He backed away. The door was giving off a frozen mist now, like the dry ice fog in a cheap sci-fi flick. It gathered just above the floor, pouring out to fill the room. He was transfixed. She was there. He knew it.
He instinctively backed up. He kept backing up until he hit something with his heel. He spun around but now the mist was about thigh high, so he could see nothing below his waist. The mattress! It was the fucking mattress! He started to laugh, with the stress and fatigue of it all. "Old man, you still know how to scare the crap out of yourself after all these years," he said to himself, but his bravado and smile quickly faded. He looked back at the door, mist was now pouring down it like a waterfall. There was a chain lock and a deadbolt. He made his way through the waist high fog and pulled his sweater off to use as a glove against the cold. He locked the deadbolt and slid the chain into place. There. He was safe.
Then he heard it.
What was that? Panting? A faint, shallow, raspy breathing? It was behind him in the room.
"Alright! Who the hell is doing this?" he said, trying to sound tough.
The door was so cold he had to move away from it or freeze. He pulled his nasty sweater vest back on and moved toward the kitchenette on his left. There was nothing in the drawers or cabinets to use as a weapon. The breathing continued, weak and rattling with pleurisy.
"Bang!" went the metal skin on the fire-door as it popped in contraction from the assault of cold. Hubbard shot forward and fell over onto the mattress.
He wasn't alone.
If he could have shit or pissed himself, he surely would have. He couldn't move. A cold, dry hand grasped his arm. He recoiled, but the nearly skeletal hand held tight. He couldn't really see for all the mist around him, but he could hear. And what he heard was a jingle. The jingle of charms.
He tried again to wrest his hand free, but this time the whole body came forward with it. It was Lisa, but her beautiful face was almost cadaverous, covered with sores and eyes sunken deep in their sockets. She was trying to talk.
"Q-q-quiet" she barely whispered, gasping short, sharp breaths between words, "I'm . . . clear . . . no . . . sick" she said pleadingly. "Just . . . need . . . quiet. Rest. Introspect . . . " she trailed off, coughing weakly, her rattly lungs betraying her condition.
"What do you want? Who are you? What happened to you?"
"Come . . . closer, I . . . don't . . . have . . . much . . . time." she rasped.
He had no choice. Her hand may have been barely skin and bones, but he wasn't going anywhere until she was done with him.
"Did . . . did I . . . do this?" Hubbard asked, afraid of the answer. Now he was shaking.
She just looked at him with her graying pupils. "You know . . . who," she said.
"I know what?" he asked softly, but her hand had relaxed, her breathing had stopped. She was still. He lay there in shock for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he rolled off the mattress onto the floor and backed up against the wall. The mist was dissipating. The front door looked normal again, save for all the condensation that had pooled at its base. He turned to look back at Lisa, but she had gone all translucent. She was evaporating with the wisps of fog around her. Only her circle of golden charms remained.
Death for the dead.
Death for the dead. Those words kept repeating in his head. Where had he heard them before? Death for the dead. He was still shaking badly and felt like he might vomit. Opening the bathroom door, he expected more excrement, but he saw instead that the room had returned to its previous, pristine state. There were fresh, white towels and flowers placed on the back of the commode . . . and it didn't smell. He shut the door behind him and staggered to the toilet. Clutching the rim, he dry-heaved a few times. Nothing came out. 'Not always safe' Smith had said. "Not safe. No shit," Ron announced bitterly to the porcelain bowl before him.
He got to his feet, peeled his stinking rags off and showered for the first time in, what . . . 28 years?
After all that he'd been through, the hot water was paradise, and the soap smelled of sandalwood, which reminded him of his first wife, Polly, and a life so very long ago. He luxuriated in the shower until the stench of death for the dead was gone. The thick towels were like the ones he'd insisted on when he was kitting out St. Hill. So long ago. When he emerged dripping and refreshed, there was a fine, English shaving kit with a ceramic mug full of lather and a boar bristle brush waiting next to the sink. He scrutinized his reflection as he shaved in front of the bathroom mirror. Not bad for, what was he? Seventy-something? He looked more like fifty. His teeth even looked better, his hair fuller and less gray. What was the other thing that Joseph Smith had said? 'That could change?' "Well, I guess it has" he said to the mirror, feeling rather pleased with himself.
The idea of putting on those horrible, stinking rags he'd been wearing was unappealing, but he couldn't wear a towel everywhere, so he headed out of the bathroom to see if there was some soap to wash his clothes out in the kitchenette. He was only half surprised to find the room fully furnished, the kitchenette stocked. Best of all, here were fresh undergarments and beautiful blue suit arranged on a valet next to the closet.
Ron Hubbard loved luxury and he especially loved fine clothing. He savored the experience of putting on a crisp, fresh shirt and a perfectly tailored suit. It all smelled expensive. On the bureau, there were ruby cufflinks and a watch. But not just any watch, it was a gold Vacheron Constantin Reference 4178 Chronograph, the one with the alligator strap. He bought it for himself when Dianetics went on the best seller list the first time. He reached for the timepiece but stopped, noticing the charm bracelet sitting next to it. Feelings again. Was that sadness? Regret? Maybe, for a moment, then he shook it off. Hell, he was young again! And hungry! He fastened the jewelry and watch, pocketed the bracelet and admired himself in the full length mirror of the closet door. He was back.
Feeling a bit more like himself, L. Ron Hubbard walked purposefully to grasp the doorknob, and . . . hesitation. The hesitation was slight, but it was there. But, she was gone. He'd watched the girl exteriorize right in front of him. Nothing could be done about whatever happened to the her. It wasn't any of his business anyway. He didn't even know her. He grabbed the knob and opened the door. No Lisa. Just the perfume of a balmy Florida evening and the boozy sound of a jazz combo coming from the pool area. He strode out into the night to reclaim Flag as his own.
There was a cocktail party by the pool. Finally. Some human company. Fashionably dressed people were all milling around with drinks and, (yes!) cigarettes. The party was gay and the chatter, lively. The center of attention seemed to be a small, intense brunette who was holding court by the buffet table. Her audience hung on her every word.
"Commodore?" A Sea Org waiter appeared proffering a lit Kool and a rum drink with a festive umbrella in it.
"Uh, thanks, son. So, tell me, who's that little broad over there with all the men around her? I can't quite make her out . . . " he asked pointing across the pool.
"Oh, that's Miss Rand, sir. This is her book party. She's staying in the Presidential Suite. I hear she's very interesting."
"Oh, she is, son, she is . . ."