Crying. He hated crying.
Hubbard just never knew what to do with someone so afflicted. He couldn't stand there forever and just let her blubber like that. And who, exactly did she hate? What was that all about? Then it suddenly occurred to him, she was dead. She looked so young! He felt panicked again. Was it because of something he'd done, some random, bennie-fueled HCOB he wrote in a fury? Something his enemies would lay at his feet?
"Now, now, Shelly. What's the problem?" He was using his patented "affable" voice.
"Look at me!" the young messenger screamed. She steadied herself with the wall and rose to her feet. "He did this to me!"
He could now see that she was badly bruised, especially her neck. Around her throat were two horrible, prune colored hand prints.
"Well, uh, who did this to you, Shelly?" To be honest, he really didn't want to know. He had a feeling that this was going to be another one of those rub-it-in-your-face moments for him.
"That asshole husband of mine! That goddam, counterintentioned, out ethics, cocksucker!"
She was yelling quite loudly now. At least she'd stopped crying. Hubbard looked around to see if anyone was watching. The colonnade was empty. Just the shrill call of the frogs and the hum of the pool equipment to be heard.
She turned to Hubbard, eyes pleading, "You would have stopped him. You would have saved me . . . wouldn't you?"
He knew who she was talking about now. Miscavige. He did this. Those were his handprints. 'That little asshole is ruining my afterlife in a big way' he thought to himself. Hubbard put his hands on Shelly's shoulders and she winced. "I'm sorry hon. Really I am. You . . . you shouldn't be here yet. Of course I would have stopped this if I could have. My girls were the only ones I really trusted, and you were my favorite back in those days."
"Have you seen what he's done? Have you seen it?" She said gesturing toward Fort Harrison avenue.
"Shelly, I'll be honest with you. I'm only just waking up here after 28 years. I haven't seen anything at all. How long have you been here?"
"This happened in 2008!" she said pointing to her neck. "I did everything he wanted. Everything. I humiliated myself, gave up everything. He called me 'out ethics, low toned.' He said I was a fucking suppressive and that I was a traitor and was going to lose my eternity!" She was trembling with rage.
Shelly was always the smartest of the messengers. The other messengers were merciless to her behind her back. The back-stabbing intrigue of the Sea Org onboard the Apollo would have made any Medici blush.
"He was leaving for Italy with Lou to go to Tom and Katie's wedding, which was happening because of my hard work. He came up to the Rim of the World, to CST, to tell me I wasn't going. Well, that was it, I confronted him with his affair with Lou and I just lost it. I slapped the hell out of his face and messed his hair up. His perfect, fucking hair. Nobody could ever touch his damn hair. But I did. I pulled the fuck out of a bunch of his plugs." Her hand was clenched in a fist and she examined it proudly, as if his hair was still between her fingers. "Well, that did it. The little fucker grabbed me around the neck and I fell back and hit my head on the hearth. That was the last I remember before waking up in this place. So much has happened since that day." And then with the rage subsiding, a stern sadnesss, "It's all coming apart, sir. All of it."
He wasn't sure what to make of the last outburst. Tom and Katie? Lou? Had Miscavige gone queer? "So, he was out 2D with some man?" he asked.
"Oh, god no . . . at least, I don't think so. But, I wouldn't put anything past him. Lou is Laurisse Stuckenbrock, his communicator. No, sir, his 2D is all around being beaten and humiliated . . . and his damn puppets. Oh, he made me do it for years, I guess it's her turn now. The leather, the whips and clamps. Smashing his balls is his favorite thing, but you have to do it just right. Exactly the right pressure with your foot. He's such a fucking control freak that even his micromanages his masochism. God, how I hated it."
Puppets? This was more, way more, than he needed to hear at this particular moment. "Uh, look, Shelly, you really don't have to go into any more detail. That's quite enough."
She continued, "I guess he found a soulmate in Lou, a sick, cold, back-stabbing soulmate. Oh, I have a feeling she just loves crushing balls. I swear that bitch would drown a bag of puppies without blinking an eye . . . " She noticed that Hubbard staring, slackjawed at this point. "Sorry sir," she laughed, "I guess that's all kind of gross, isn't it?"
Then he noticed something quite remarkable. Shelly had aged, no, actually, she was still aging right in front of his eyes. This damn place again.
"Are you doing that on purpose?" he asked, waving a finger at her.
"Oh, it was the thing with the balls wasn't it? And the puppets. Oh shit, I'm sorry, sir, you really don't need to hear all that" she said apologetically.
"Nevermind" Ron mumbled, gesturing toward the lobby door. "Seeing as you're of age now, I think we could both use a drink, how about we hit the bar for a nightcap before turning in?" Then it occurred to him that might have sounded bad. "I mean, uh, you do have a room here, don't you?"
I actually live in . . . another place. I heard you were here and I wanted to see you.
"Missionaries?" he asked dryly.
"Yes. How did you know?"
"It's a theme."
"Oh. Well, anyway, my . . . friend, Uwe dropped me here this morning and I waited for you. I'm sorry I was so emotional, but I started reliving all the abuse and . . ." she trailed off. More tears and then she composed herself again.
"You know, you looked like you were about 12 when I first saw you. How does that work? I mean, I looked like hell when I first woke up from that infernal loop thing. Then there was this . . . incident with . . ."
"Lisa?" she asked.
"Lisa found you first, didn't she." Shelly said gravely.
"I'll say she found me. What the hell was all that spook-house business about? I'll be honest, that gave me quite a case of the wim-wams." Hubbard said trying to sound nonchalant.
"Lisa was a loyal Scientologist, a clear. She died during an Introspection Rundown in that room, sir. She was trapped here. She couldn't move on without confronting you. It's kind of a thing around here, especially if the connections are deep. You don't even have to know someone and, bam, they show up in the weirdest ways. I'm afraid there may be others. Come to think of it, my mom's not too happy with you either."
"Swell." He grumbled, looking about nervously, "what about that drink? Will this Ooowee you mentioned be picking you up?" He didn't recognize the name. The guy was probably another angry, dead Scientologist.
"Something tells me he'll be in the bar waiting for us. That kind of thing happens a lot around here. You'll get used to it." She took his arm and they made their way to the small bar just off the lobby.
There was an intense looking young man seated at a table in the corner. He gave Hubbard a stern look as he rose to greet them. "Mr. Hubbard, I am Uwe Stuckenbrock."
Stuckenbrock. That name again. He pondered how this guy might be related to the ball-smashing woman Shelly had mentioned.
"Ah, yes. She's my . . . widow, sir. You were wondering . . . just now?" the young man said with a clear German accent. "I was your former Int Base Security Chief."
"I see. So, Uwe, how did you . . . well, you know . . . get here?" Hubbard was guessing that this was a common topic of conversation among the dead. Weird.
"Multiple Sclerosis. Turns out MS is quite resistant to auditing and vitamins. Saunas too." There was a tone of dark sarcasm in his voice.
"Well, that's, uh, terrible. Terrible, Uwe. I'm sure you were urged to see doctors, weren't you?" 'Here comes, the knife' Hubbard thought.
"What I was urged to do was to keep working and audit. So I did. And, in doing so, I waited too long for treatment that might have slowed things down a bit. Your winzig fuhrer ordered Laurisse to divorce me when I was first diagnosed. They might have at least let me go home to Germany, to my family, to die, but evidently I knew too much. I died in the RPF, Mr. Hubbard. It wasn't peaceful."
Hubbard had nothing to say to this. He looked at Shelly.
"Uwe, I'm sure this wouldn't have happened if the Commodore had been alive, would it sir?" She looked at Hubbard hopefully.
Uwe just looked at Shelly. Her misplaced loyalty was heartbreaking. He clasped her hand tightly, "You are my reward for all the suffering I was handed in life, liebeschen. But, look . . . you've been crying . . ." he touched her cheek.
Hubbard squirmed irritably at the emotions on display. "So, what are we all drinking?" he blurted out. And, as he said that, one of the robotic CMO girls who he'd recently hidden behind came up to take their orders. She glared at Shelly.
"What can I get for you Commodore?" the girl said unctuously.
"Jack Daniels rocks, with a water chaser. You two?" he asked his companions.
"Nothing for me sir" said Uwe.
"I'm fine, thanks" Shelly demurred.
The statuesque blonde pivoted and slipped behind the bar to get Hubbard's whiskey. He watched her walk away. "Talk about doll bodies . . ." he muttered under his breath.
There a sudden commotion out in the lobby. "Shelly!" Hubbard heard a woman say from the entrance to the bar. "Darling, it's me, Karen!" The woman strode over to the table.
Shelly and Uwe rose to greet a radiant looking Karen Black. They embraced warmly.
"Won't you sit with us?" Shelly gestured toward the empty chair next to Hubbard, "as you can see, we have a special guest."
Miss Black looked like she smelled something awful. "Oh, Shell, come on. You want me to sit next to him? Really? Honey, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for that asshole's life advice. I would've been good for another ten years at least. The only reason I came to this shithole is because Ayn invited me to her book party and never takes no for an answer."
"Well, if it isn't Karen Black. Did the Mormons bring you here, or did you just hop on your broom and come of your own accord?" Ron said with as much acid as he could muster."
Karen leaned down and said, "Oh, Ronnie, I'd slap you, but shit splatters." She let out a laugh and stood back up. "Shelly, you call me, hon. And really, wake up, baby. You're smarter than all of 'em. Be good to her Uwe, she deserves it." And with that, she swept out into the lobby where a pack of paparazzi were waiting with flashes popping.
"Fucking actors. I never trusted that bitch" Hubbard said with a sneer.
Shelly looked sad. Uwe stood suddenly and said "I think it's time we turn in, my darling. Come. You can talk to Mr. Hubbard in the morning."
Shelly rose with him and leaned over to kiss Hubbard on the cheek. "I know you would have helped him. I know it," she whispered. "We'll see you in the morning, sir." And with that, she took Uwe's hand and they left the bar.
Hubbard wiped his cheek with a napkin once they were out of sight. Saliva. Ugh. He finished his drink and walked out to the front desk. There were two of his nearly identical CMO gals waiting to help him. "Any messages for me?" he asked, half joking. The taller of the two turned to find his mail box and pulled out several slips of paper. "Just these, sir. Let us know if there's anything you need, Commodore."
He strolled as he read the three messages. The first was from Ayn: 'Divine to see you again Ronnie. Stay safe and keep your heart and your eyes open. Much Love, A.' The next was a phone message from Sid: 'Sorry about the sudden shift old man. Remember, holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. I'll come round to pick you up tomorrow.' What the hell was that supposed to mean anyway? He crumpled the note up and read the last one. No sender, it just said: 'You left me there. How could you do that?' Oh shit, what was that about? He felt another chill even though the night was warm. He crumpled up the remaining two notes and chucked them on the ground. Hubbard reached Nº. 174 and opened the door to his room carefully. It was clean and blessedly free from his past. He locked the door and chained it. Undressed and slipped into the clean sheets of his meticulously made bed, and drifted off to sleep.
He was awakened by that damn phone thing. It was chirping and buzzing on his dresser at the same time. Hubbard made his way over to the phone. It said 'Shelly' on its face. He picked it up and pressed the button to answer like Ayn had shown him. "Good morning, Shelly," he said with as much cheer as he could muster before coffee.
"Commodore, please meet me in the lobby. I want to show you around. I'll see you in fifteen minutes." The phone went silent. She had hung up, and she sounded rather cold and distant, too. That didn't bode well for the day. On the bright side, he saw that there was a beautiful seersucker suit with a freshly pressed shirt and white buckskin loafers on the valet. A pale blue ascot was draped over the shoulder of the suit. He loved ascots. So dignified, yet casual. They spoke of leisure and luxury to him. He showered and shaved. Everything was new. The soap, the razor blades. He could get used to this. There was a steaming cup of hot coffee on the counter of the kitchenette when he emerged to dress. Nobody around. Interesting. If only the MEST universe had been like this. But it all seemed real enough, so who could say?
He finished dressing and walked down the colonnade toward the lobby, enjoying his coffee with the rising sun slanting through the palms. The morning was quiet and balmy. Shelly was pacing alone by the front doors. The two messengers behind the front desk were eyeing Shelly, whispering to each other and giggling. They snapped to attention as Hubbard entered the lobby.
"Bitches" Shelly said bitterly as he walked up to her.
"Now, Shelly, you shouldn't let them get to you. I hear tell they're not even really people."
"That's easy for you to say, sir. They're not sneering at you."
"Well, what's this you want to show me today? You made it sound urgent."
"Come with me, sir. I want you to see what he's done in your name." She took his hand and led him to the front door and out onto South Fort Harrison. Two messengers opened the doors for them and they stepped into the sunlight. Above them, there was a bridge leading to a huge building across the street. Massive. It dwarfed the hotel. They walked across the street and to the intersection with Pierce and he saw "Flag" in large script above the door.
"What the . . . is this what you were telling me about the other night?"
"Oh, it's only the tip of the iceberg, sir. Only the tip." She took his hand and led him up to the entrance. They entered a lavish reception area with a huge circular counter, and there was another Commodore's Messenger behind that counter. "Welcome to Flag Commodore!" the CM said enthusiastically.
"Nevermind her" Shelly said, as she pulled Ron purposefully into a vast, multi-story space. Was it some kind of temple? There were huge, bronze statues. They looked like faceless spacemen. There was marble everywhere and a huge fountain as well. There was a café down at the far end of the room.
"So? What do you think? This is what it's all come to. This is the building of buildings here in Clearwater. Dave raised more than two hundred million bucks for this thing. Everyone calls it the Superpower Building. Of course, he only spent a hundred mil and change on it. I know where the rest is and so will the feds if they ever raid CST. The whales will tear the little bastard limb from limb when they find out how they've been had."
"All this? For me?" She was kind of shocked. Hubbard looked pleased.
"Wait. You don't get it. This is all there is." He wasn't listening to her. "The Church is practically dead. There are no new public. No new auditors. There's a handful of people, rich ones, on the bridge. Most of them are foreigners. Russians especially. Mobsters wives and kids. They all want to get the hell out of Russia, so they go to St. Hill to do their TRs and OT courses. Dave is fucking scared to death of them, but he can't live without their money. He launders it, they keep the doors open. But it won't last for long. It's a pyramid scheme and the foundation is crumbling. Your oldtimers are dying or broke. They all hate Dave. Everybody does. But they're scared of him. Of losing their eternity. If they only knew . . ." she said looking around bitterly.
Hubbard was still staring at all the bling that surrounded them. "So, you say this pile cost a hundred mil? Not bad for a pulp fiction writer . . ." he trailed off.
"Sir, I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation. He's killing your legacy. He keeps regging the public for money to build what he calls Ideal Orgs all around the world. He drains them of everything to buy and remodel the buildings. Then they have to rent them back from Religious Technology Center, but they have no new public. No book sales. They have nothing but debt and shiny, empty buildings. Sir, are you listening?"
"He gets them to pay for the buildings and then rent them back? That sounds pretty smart to me!" Hubbard said admiring a huge portrait of himself on the wall.
"I'm beginning to think Uwe might be right about you, sir." She looked like she'd lost her best friend, mankind's best friend. "I tell everyone that you were good. That you wouldn't let this kind of thing happen. Uwe said you were the monster at the root of all this. He says that Dave was your ultimate creation, a kind of you-on-steroids. I've defended you. I've fought for you."
Hubbard continued to admire his portrait.
"I said I've defended you! Do you hear me, you monster!" she pushed him. "You sonofabitch!" now she shoved him. Hard.
He was utterly enthralled by his own image.
Then she heard a warm voice behind her. "Liebschen. I'm so sorry." It was Uwe. He held his arms open and she ran to him sobbing.
"Oh, god, Uwe," she cried, "I thought . . . I believed. So much wasted, Uwe. My mother . . . so much wasted . . ." she buried her face in his chest and wept.
Uwe looked at Hubbard, standing there completely entranced by his own face. The painting was looking directly at him now. It was too creepy. Uwe turned away and led Shelly past the cold woman at the desk and out into the warmth of the Florida sun. As they walked slowly down the steps, they passed a tall, elegant man sporting a crisply tailored, navy, linen suit and black Ray Bans on his way up. Both parties paused briefly, "He's in there, Sid," Uwe said, gesturing toward the Flag entrance. "Good luck getting through to him, I think he's finally found the love of his life."
A moment later, Mr. S. G. Lokavid strode through the reception area and into the great hall where Hubbard stood trapped in his own gaze. "Ron!" he said, casually cleaning his sunglasses with his pocket square, "come along, I believe we still have a keynote to attend."