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Like That Old Merle Haggard Song – The Newcomer Chapter 4

This is the fourth chapter in an ongoing series of speculative fiction about an alternative history of the USA. Chapter 1 can be found here.

“It’s somethin’ else,” said Chilton.

It was. The traffic that crawled along the strip was peppered with neon sports cars, thundering Mexican-made motorcycles, and stretch limousines that were wrapped in casino liveries.

The sidewalks were just as exciting. Even in the early afternoon there were parties of drunken revelers rambling this way and that along the sidewalk. Performers and costumed characters were vying for the attention of the crowds, but more than a few spectators were lined up to watch the parade of beautiful and exotic vehicles rolling by. Ernie’s matte black Mekong Phoenix had windows that were tinted so dark that nobody could possibly see who was inside, but Tucker could tell that a lot of folks were trying anyway.

The casinos were huge and garish and festooned with massive billboards and video screens hawking shows and brands. They were reminding Tucker of home, of Atlanta, but in a way he found unsettling. He suddenly realized how devoid of advertising Denver had been. He closed his eyes.

When he felt the car turning he opened them again. Ernie had pulled off the strip onto Sands Avenue. They passed by the faux tropical paradise of the Palazzo but the building stretched on and on. The side that faced Sands was surprisingly plain and bare compared to the strip-facing front facade.

There were no pedestrians here and only a handful of cars.

“We’re off the strip, but I prefer it that way,” said Chilton. “Keeps out the ruckus.”

They passed a few smaller casinos. They were like miniatures of the behemoths on the strip, complete with miniature billboards and miniature crowds. Tucker thought he saw a movie star walking along the road. The guy who played the bad guy in that movie about outer space. He was wearing a huge white cowboy hat.

The Gold Rush had a huge conestoga wagon parked in front that seemed to be made of solid gold, along with a team of glittering horses. A small child was straddling the back of one of the golden horses and grinning wide as their mother took a picture. Tucker had started to notice the children out West tended to have haircuts and clothes that made it impossible to distinguish their genders.

“Home, sweet home,” said Chilton, as a valet opened the door for them, which startled Tucker. After a moment’s hesitation he jumped out of the car and gazed around.

It wasn’t as busy as the huge casinos on the strip but there was a steady stream of people going in and coming out of the wide bank of huge doors of the main entrance. He could feel the air conditioning blasting out, even from this far away.

“Welcome back,” said the valet, shaking hands with Chilton. The valet took Chilton’s bag and reached for Tucker’s, but Tucker shrugged it away.

“I can carry it, thanks,” said Tucker.

“Let the young man take your bag up to your room,” said Chilton, “so you and I can have a drink before they find out I’m back and bury me in paperwork.”

Tucker relented and handed over his bag to the valet, who looked to be about twenty. He wore an enamel-painted silver badge on his chest. The words “TRANSIENT WORKERS SYNDICATE” circled around an emblem of a globe, with the number “327” beneath.

“Put Mr. Tucker here in a VIP room. On the house,” said Chilton.

“You got it, Mr. Chilton,” said the valet, before springing off, carrying the bags as though they had no weight at all.

“Wish I still had that much energy,” said Tucker.

“We do have a lot in common,” said Chilton, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get in outta this heat.”

They walked into the chilly casino. The cries of stick men calling out craps rolls and dealers taking bets punctuated over an ambience of chatty guests and brassy jazz music.

Chilton brought them to a central bar. A waitress immediately placed a crisp white napkin with the Gold Rush logo embroidered on the corner before each of them.

“Oh, you’re back early, Mr. Chilton!” said the waitress, who looked like she could have been super model, with long blonde hair. It took Tucker a few moments but he suddenly came to realize that she must not have been born a woman. She had the same badge as the valet clipped to her skimpy cocktail dress but hers had the number “268.”

“They dragged me back in,” said Chilton. “I’ll have a double bourbon and my friend here will have…”

“The same,” said Tucker. He saw that her eyes were green.

After the waitress was gone, Tucker pointed back at her with a thumb.

“Was she a –”

“Transgendered,” said Chilton, cutting him off. “But just think of her as a woman. You’re gonna have to get used to folks like that, boy. Out here we live our lives the way we wanna live’em, and if you don’t like it you might as well just pack it on up back to Georgia.”

“I ain’t bothered by it none,” said Tucker. “Just, she’s even prettier than most real women I seen.”

“She is a real woman,” said Chilton. “You just gotta wrap your head around stuff like that. It took me a few years to come around to it, myself, and I wish I’d caught up sooner. Vanessa there came from back East, same as you and me. Lost her whole family on account’a they couldn’t accept her as a woman. Lost everything, everyone she had. But she’s rebuilding her life here, found her a new family here. It’s a great thing, boy. Havin’ that kind of freedom.”

Tucker nodded, not sure of what to say. After a while the bourbons were placed in front of them, along with two icey glasses of water.

“Anything else?” asked Vanessa.

Tucker looked her over. Tried to make like he wasn’t.

“No thank you, ma’am,’ said Tucker.

“Alright, she is a real woman,” he said, glancing back at her as she walked away, which drew a phlegmy laugh from Chilton.

“You got a lot to learn, son,” said Chilton, “but folks’ll mostly go easy on you. Just tell’em you’re a newcomer right away.”

“I thought you wasn’t allowed to have employees out West,” said Tucker. “Seems you got a lot of people workin’ for you.”

“I hold an elected position,” said Chilton. “I can rightly say this whole casino is mine. But Vanessa could say the same thing. And so could Ernie, who drove us here. Same as Dwayne, who took your bag. Same as Mr. Easley, who’s currently pushing that broom over there.” He pointed to a white-haired man who looked even older than Chilton. “We’re all equal shareholders of this enterprise, and we all make the same salary.”

“You mean you run this place and you make the same money as a janitor?” asked Tucker.

“This place could get along pretty well without me,” said Chilton, “But if nobody picks up the trash and cleans the floors our guests are gonna stop comin’ in real quick.”

“Makes a certain kinda sense,” said Tucker.

“Mr. Chilton,” said a middle-aged man, handsome and dark-skinned, in a very nice suit. He looked very concerned about something. “Sorry to bother you, I just heard you’re back. We need you upstairs right away.”

“Of course you do,” said Chilton, with a heavy sigh. He stood up and grabbed his bourbon. “Take Mr. Tucker here to his room, would you? Dwayne can tell you the number.”

Chilton extended a hand to Tucker. “We might not see each other again this go’round, I’m afraid, but you have my card. Give me a call if you ever need anything.”

Tucker shook it, once again surprised by the strength in his rough, aged hands. “I appreciate this all very much, Mr. Chilton,” said Tucker. “You take care of yourself.”

“Y’all be good, now,” said Chilton, disappearing into the depths of the casino.


The room was enormous.

Tucker found his bag placed neatly on a side table by the door along with a basket that was filled with fruits and confections and a bottle of wine. A small kitchenette was to the left and floor-to-ceiling windows made the opposite wall. A white couch faced out the windows. There didn’t seem to be any TV, but then he realized there was a projector mounted to the ceiling that served that purpose. He didn’t even see a bed from the doorway. It was somewhere deeper in the suite.

“Is the room to your liking?” asked the man in the suit, whose name was Mr. Khatri.

“It’s real nice,” said Tucker.

“If you need anything at all you can call reception by dialing zero,” said Khatri. He sounded like he was trying hard to not sound like he was in a hurry.

“I think I’ll be okay, Mr. Khatri, thank you again.”

Khatri stepped serenely out of the room, but Tucker could hear him start to run down the hall once he was out of sight.

The bathroom was as big as his apartment back in Atlanta. There was a basket of soaps that were shaped like little fruits and a brand new razor set out on a clean linen towel. He looked at himself in the mirror. He could use a shower and a shave.


Tucker stepped out of the elevator and looked around. He knew a little bit about rolling craps so he thought he’d play for a while. He found a table with a $3 limit and sidled up next to a heavy-set older man in a rayon bowling shirt. The middle of the table was lined with Japanese salarymen in suits but no ties. They were chatting in hushed tones as they pointed at the chips and markings on the table. One of them seemed to be teaching the rules of the game to the others.

Tucker threw one of his ten dollar bills onto the table. A single red chip and five whites were slid to him in exchange. He placed three whites on the pass line.

The croupier shoved the dice to a woman in golf clothes who stood at the opposite end of the table.

“Coming out,” yelled the stick man.

The man in the bowling shirt yelled out: “Come on, let’s do it again!” He was obviously very drunk.

The woman rolled the dice and hit a two.

“Snake eyes,” said the stick man, and the dealers whisked away all the chips, including Tucker’s.

“Wanna shoot, pal?” asked the stick man, shoving the dice half-way towards Tucker.

Tucker nodded and held out his hand. The stick man gracefully flipped the dice so that a six and a one were facing up, set neatly before Tucker.

“Where ya from, shooter?” asked Tucker’s drunken neighbor.

“Atlanta,” said Tucker. “I’m just passin’ through. Headed up to California.”

“Lotta you Okies coming in, nowadays,” said the drunk man. Tucker didn’t understand what he meant, but it didn’t seem like a friendly remark.

Tucker placed another three dollar pass line bet and waited for the table action to settle. He saw that the drunk man had placed a blue chip on “Don’t Pass.”

Tucker snatched up the dice and rolled them the way his brother had taught him when they were kids, holding the dice between his index and middle finger and sort of flipping them underhanded towards the other side of the table. They bounced and rolled and came up a 7.

The Japanese men and the golfer cheered, but the drunk man slammed his drink down onto the elbow-polished hardwood of the craps table and shouted: “Gawdamnit!”

He swung towards Tucker. Tucker could smell that he was drinking coconut rum mixed in with one of those Mexican apple sodas that were popular out West. He couldn’t remember the name. Mundo?

“You gawdamn Okie!” shouted the drunk man. A heavy blast of coconut, apples, and alcohol.

“Cool it, ‘rad,” said the nearest dealer. “Just had some bad luck.”

“Place your bets,” said the stick man, trying to move things on. But the drunk man was relentless. He shoved his finger into Tucker’s face.

“You just lost me a hundred bucks, asshole.”

“You coulda bet with everyone else,” said the nearby dealer. “Now make a bet or walk away.”

“Fuck. You,” heaved the drunk man, reeling back to throw a punch, The nearby dealer grabbed his arm before he could swing and wrestled him to the ground in a quick, practiced motion. Several security guards rushed over, as if from nowhere, and in an instant the drunk man was gone. His half-empty coconut and Mexican whatever-it’s-called was still sweating on the rail of the craps table.

“Table’s closed,” said the box man, and the chips were whipped back and forth to their respective owners. The dealer who’d wrestled down the drunk man was straightening his gold-colored bow tie as he was kneeling. Tucker stepped over to help him up.

“Hey, thanks for stepping in,” said Tucker. “You alright?”

“Part of the job,” said the dealer. “Happens from time to time. Hey, looks like my shift ended early. Wanna grab a drink? I could use one.”

“Sure,” said Tucker, feeling the same.

“You want one?” asked the dealer. He was offering up a crumpled pack of JET cigarettes. Tucker could see an import seal from Vietnam and one of those ugly stickers with a picture of some guy with a tube in his neck.

“Don’t really smoke any more,” said Tucker. “But I’ll take one.”

“What’s Atlanta like, anyway?” asked the dealer as he tapped out two cigarettes, giving one to Tucker.

“It’s alright,” said Tucker. “They make Coca-Cola there.”

“So I heard. I’m Travis, by the way.”

“Tucker. Marvin Tucker.” They shook.

Travis lit his cigarette, then Tucker’s. Tucker realized it had become strange for people to smoke indoors, even back East, but Las Vegas seemed to do things a little differently from everywhere else.

“What was that guy calling me? An ‘Okie?’ Like that old Merle Haggard song?” asked Tucker. The cigarette was smoother than the Marlboros he used to smoke back in the army. Seemed stronger, too, but maybe that was just because he hadn’t had any nicotine in over a year.

“Yup, like the song. Kind of an insult for Newcomers,” said Travis. “My grandpa was one of the original Okies, back in the dust bowl. Snuck across the border from Oklahoma into New Mexico and was one of the founding members of the TWS.” Travis gestured to his own enameled badge with a globe. His had the number 146. “They were the original Newcomers.”

“Transient Workers Syndicate,” said Tucker, reading his badge. “I seen everyone who works here’s wearin’ one of them.”

“Most of us, anyway,” said Travis. He seemed to be about Tucker’s age.

“What’s a syndicate?” asked Tucker.

“Kind of has a few different meanings,” said Travis. “For us transients it’s basically our own commune. Sometimes we call it ‘Nowheresville.’ Kind of a joke.”

Travis took a drag of his cigarette, the cherry burning bright in the dimly lit bar they’d moved to. He ashed in a black plastic ashtray and ordered a Corona. Tucker asked for the same.

“So none of y’all live here?” asked Tucker.

“Transients don’t usually live anywhere for very long, that’s kind of our thing. But Vegas is a great place for us because we can convert Nevada dollars to cappy currencies.”

“Cappy?”

“Capitalist. I’m saving up to travel Europe.”

“So y’all enjoy traveling?”

“I can’t speak for everyone else, but I love it. We only get one spin on this globe, might as well see as much of it as I can!”

“How many places you been?”

“Just about everywhere in the Americas, so far,” said Travis.

“Except Atlanta,” said Tucker.

“Except Atlanta.”

The beers came. Tucker picked his up. There was a lime slotted into the mouth of the bottle. Tucker had never seen that before. He watched Travis and learned that you were supposed to push the lime down into the bottle. He did it and beer started to foam out over the top, spilling onto the table.

Travis laughed and helped him wipe away the beer with a napkin.

“Never had nobody put no lime in my beer,” said Tucker.

“It’s a thing they do with Mexican beers,” said Travis. “Kind of an art to gettin’ ’em in there.”

“Ain’t a lot of Mexicans back East,” said Tucker.

“I suppose there aren’t,” said Travis.

Tucker wiped up the last bit of spilled beer from his bottle and took a sip. It tasted pretty good with the lime.

“What do y’all need a commune for, anyway, if you’re always travelin’ around?”

“Look after our interests, organize contracts with all the other communes. Some transients are digital nomads, they have their own syndicate. The TWS is mostly hospitality drifters like me. We work in casinos, hostels, massage parlors, tour companies, wait tables. Whatever we can pick up. Have an online job board where we can find new gigs all over the place. We work pretty much everything out online, actually. Back in the old days they did everything through the mail, I guess, but that was before my time.”

“Sounds like a nice life,” said Tucker. “I wish I coulda did more traveling when I was younger.”

“Never too late,” said Travis. He pulled out his wallet and slide a little business card across the table. It had Travis’ contact info on one side and that same globe emblem and a web address on the back. “You should look into it. Might be the life for you.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Tucker, slotting the business card into his wallet behind Chilton’s.

“What you wanna see over there in Europe?” asked Tucker.

“All of it,” said Travis, taking the first sip of his own beer.

Chapter 5 will be available next week. Subscribe to my RSS if you don’t want to miss it. 🙂

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Crossing Paths – The Newcomer Chapter 3

Note: this is Chapter 3 in an ongoing series of speculative fiction about an alternative history of the USA. Chapter 1 can be found here.

Tucker watched the vast plains of scrub brush whip by through the large tinted window of the dining car. He had a pimento cheese sandwich and a Coors Light in front of him but so far he’d only touched the beer.

“It’s somethin’ else, ain’t it?” asked an old man as he sat down across from Tucker at the little counter. He wore a dark green sweater, despite the heat, and a tweed flat cap was perched atop his completely bald head. He was holding a giant salted pretzel.

“First time I seen land like this,” said Tucker, taking a sip of his beer. The old man tore off a corner of the pretzel with his teeth and chewed thoughtfully.

A couple of young men walked up, both wearing dark suits. One had a red patterned tie, the other blue. Neither could have been more than twenty years old.

“Mind if we join you?” asked the red tie.

“I was just leaving anyway,” said the old man, his eyes darting over the young men with open contempt. “You were about to head off, too, weren’t ya, young man?” he asked Tucker.

“I reckon I’ll finish my lunch,” said Tucker.

“Suit yourself,” said the old man, shuffling past the young men and hobbling off down the narrow aisle of the dining car with his pretzel.

The young men took the old man’s place, sitting across from Tucker. They set down trays that were identically overburdened with hot dogs, plates of chili cheese fries, giant root beers.

“Y’all sure scared him off,” said Tucker, deciding to take a bite of his pimento.

“A lot of folks don’t like Mormons,” said red tie.

“Especially missionaries,” said blue.

“We had some’a you boys back in Atlanta,” said Tucker. “Always ridin’ around on bicycles an’ knockin’ on folks’ doors.”

“That’ll be us,” said blue tie, with a big boyish grin.

“You’re from Atlanta?” asked red tie, excitement in his voice. “That’s where we’re heading!”

Tucker set down his sandwich and looked at them a bit more closely. Red tie wore a black glossy name tag on his breast pocket that read “Elder Stevens.” Blue was apparently “Elder Batts.”

“Say what, now?”

“That’s why we’re going to Las Vegas, to fly to Atlanta,” said Stevens. “That’s where we’ll be doing our mission. Well, not in Atlanta, exactly. We’ll be in a town called Savannah for our first year.”

“I have people in Savannah,” said Tucker.

“Well, maybe we’ll meet them,” said Stevens. “I’m Elder Stevens.”

“I’m Elder Batts.”

Tucker glanced at their name tags.

“Saw that. I’m Tucker, Marvin Tucker. Nice to meet you boys. I thought you couldn’t fly to the states from here?”

“The Church has a few private jets that can make the flight,” said Batts.

“They call it a diplomatic flight,” said Stevens. “But they can only leave for the States from Las Vegas and, I think maybe Mexico City.”

“Are you a newcomer?” asked Batts. “Forgive me for asking, just, I know a lot of newcomers come through this way and you seem…”

“Yeah, I just got here yesterday,” said Tucker.

“Looks like we’re crossing paths,” said Stevens. “You mind if we ask you some questions?”

“Go right ahead,” said Tucker. “But I ain’t much for church and whatnot, so ya know.”

“Don’t worry,” said Batts. “We can’t proselytize until we finish our training in Atlanta.”

“But we can give you these,” said said Stevens, digging a couple of pamphlets out of his backpack and laying them on the table. The face of Jesus smiled warmly up from one of them. The other featured a photograph of the Salt Lake Temple.

“Anyway,” said Batts. “What’s Georgia like? Are the states as dangerous as everyone says?”

“It ain’t too bad,” said Tucker. “Some places you gotta be careful, but most places are alright. I don’t think anyone’s gonna bother you much, they gonna see them name tags and know you ain’t got no money.”

“What are the people like?” asked Stevens.

“Folks is always just folks,” said Tucker, “Everywhere I been, anyway.”

“Have you traveled a lot?” asked Batts.

“Been to Iraq,” said Stevens. “Afghanistan. But didn’t get to do too much sight-seein’.”

“You were in the war?” asked Batts.

“Elder Batts,” said Stevens, “maybe Mr. Tucker doesn’t want to talk about –”

“It’s fine,” said Tucker. “All I did over there was do some weldin’, never saw any fightin’. Lost some good friends, there, though.”

“Very sorry to hear that, Mr. Tucker,” said Stevens. Both of the Elders looked gravely down at their hot dogs.

“Yeah,” said Tucker, taking another bite of his pimento.

“Where are you going to live?” asked Stevens, after an awkward gap of silence.

“Headed to California,” said Tucker. “Oakland, near San Francisco.”

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” said Batts. “This is our first time leaving Salt Lake City.”

“Things are a little different back East,” said Tucker, “But folks is just folks, everywhere I been.”

Tucker polished off the last of his beer and stood, leaving the uneaten half of his sandwich on his plate.

“Thanks for the conversation, sir,” said Elder Stevens.

“Y’all be careful out there,” said Tucker, walking away. He left Jesus and the Salt Lake Temple on the table.


“Glad to see you escaped,” said the old man, wandering up. He’d taken off his tweed cap and tucked it under one arm. The pretzel was gone.

The observation car was open-air, and the dry heat of the wind made Tucker wish he had another beer as he leaned a bit over the railing and let the desert sun warm his face. “They didn’t bother me none.”

“I can’t stand religious types, leasta ways them Mormons,” said the old man. His Southern accent was even deeper than Tucker’s. “I just had to spend a whole week in Salt Lake. Buncha religious nuts. ‘Christian socialists,’ call themselves. Nice enough folks but they all got that loopy-eyed look about’em. Don’t trust’em.”

“You sound like you ain’t from around here, neither,” said Tucker. “You from down South, too?”

“I was, ‘til ‘bout twenty five years ago. Came through Denver, same as you, I reckon.”

“Was your Welcomer a Chinese lady? Name of Lam?” asked Tucker.

“Hell, I can’t remember. I can barely remember my own name, any more.”

“Well, mine’s Tucker, Marvin Tucker.”

“I’m Lee Chilton, what’cha say?”
They shared a stiff handshake. Chilton had a lot of strength left for a man his age.

“Where ya headed from?” asked Chilton.

“Came outa Atlanta,” said Tucker.

“I’m from Birmingham, second greatest town there is.”

“What’s the first?”

“Our next stop: Las Vegas, Nevada,” said Chilton. “The last holdout of American freedom,” he added, with a phlegmy laugh.

“I’m gonna be stayin’ there overnight,” said Tucker.

“Everybody does,” said Chilton. “Security checks, they say. But if you want the truth, I say they’re ropin’ in tourist dollars.”

“I thought there wasn’t no money in the Communes?”

“Most places there ain’t, but Vegas is a little different. We’re mutualists.” Chilton plopped his cap back atop his pate and peered out at some mesas in the distance.

“I can’t get my head around all’a this stuff,” said Tucker. “Seems a fellah has to do a lot of book learnin’ to get on, ‘round here.”

“Ideology,” drawled Chilton. “Most of it’s a bunch of hooey, if ya ask me. That’s why we mutualists keep things simple. Self-regulatin’, that’s how we do things.”

“So you have money in Las Vegas?”

“Oh yeah,” said Chilton. “How much you know about anarchism, boy? You is a boy, ain’t you?”

Tucker nodded. “I don’t really know much, ‘cept what they taught me back East, and I’m startin’ to figure ain’t none of that was true. And yeah, I’m a guy. Everyone keeps askin’ me that, for some reson.”

“Considered polite, in these parts,” said Chilton. “Anyway, where you headin’ to, again?”

“California.”
“Oh, gawlee. You’re in for a rough time,” said Chilton, spitting again. “If ya ask me, you ought to stick to Vegas. Mutualism, that’s where it’s at. Real freedom.”

“What’s the difference between mutualism and… whatever they got in California?”

“Them Californians are what you call Anarcho-Communists. Work everything out on paper, base everything on trustin’ one another. Me, I know better. I trust myself, and not damn much else.”

“So Las Vegas is more like… more like back East?” asked Chilton, still confused. “Capitalist?”

“Oh, lordy, no!” yalped Chilton. “No, sir! We ain’t capitalists. See, capitalism is all about thievin’. The rich folks thieve from their workers, the government thieves from the rich folks. Everyone’s robbin’ everyone else blind, or at least they’re tryin’ to. You know what that’s like.”

“I know well enough,” agreed Tucker.

“In Las Vegas, every worker’s got a right to own their own means of production. We have a market, just like bac East, but ain’t nobody allowed to profit from nobody else. Ya get it?”

“Not really,” said Tucker.

“Well, look how it works back East. Me, I’m a miner, or used to be, anyway. What you call a bolt man, kept the roof from fallin’ in, ya see? And I was pretty damn good at it. When I was your age, they had me runnin’ all over Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky… Anywhere they had problems with the roof of a mineshaft, they flew me in.”

“Sounds like rough work,” said Tucker, who knew a thing or two about rough work.

“Hell yeah it was,” said Chilton. “Roof collapses on a mine, that costs the company a fortune. Production halts, gotta re-excavate, not to mention payin’ out to all them that gets hurt or kilt in the collapse. I figure in twenty years of workin’ I must have saved them companies somethin’ like half a billion dollars, maybe more. I stopped a lot of daggum roofs from cavin’ in, I tell ya what. And you know what they paid me?”

“I bet they didn’t pay you no half a billion dollars,” said Tucker.

“Damn right they didn’t. I was lucky if I made a thousand bucks a month. This was back in the 70’s and 80’s, mind, but even then that wasn’t much scratch.”

“So I guess y’all get paid more in Las Vegas?”

“You know how much money we earn in Las Vegas?” asked Chilton.

“How much is that?”

“One. Hundred. Percent. We keep it all, every cent. Company don’t take a cut, neither does the government. Hell, there ain’t no government, practically, except what we need to build the roads and all.”

“That sounds a lot different from Denver,” said Tucker.

“Couldn’t be more different,” said Chilton. “The problem with them people, they wanna get rid of competition. Just like them folks in California.”

“Competition?”

“It’s healthy. Keeps us pushin’ ourselves forward, ya see? I’m 70 years old, doctors’ been sayin’ I’d drop dead any second now for thirty years. But I keep pushin’ myself forward!”

“I guess that makes some kinda sense,” said Tucker.

“God damn right it does. Las Vegas ain’t like any of them kooky communes. We look after each other, mind. Nobody’s gonna starve to death or nothin’. Everyone gets what they need to survive, but from there, the sky’s the limit. That’s the way ya build a city, son. A soft floor and no ceiling! Guess you could say it’s the exact opposite of workin’ in them mines, back home.”

“I guess you could say that,” agreed Tucker. “So what do you do, now? You retired?”

“Oh, they been askin’ me to retire for fifteen years, now,” said Chilton. “That ain’t for me. I have a little hotel, out near the airport. Cater to folks from the States, mostly. But, say, you oughta come spend a night there.”

“Well, I ain’t got no money,” said Tucker. “They gave me a reservation in a hotel by the train station.”

“Forget about that,” said Chilton. “You’re gonna be my guest. See the town, watch a show. Maybe play some games, blow off some steam. You’re a newcomer so they’ll give you some foldin’ money, and the room’s on me.”

“Well, that sounds fine, Mr. Chilton. I believe I’ll take you up on that.”

“I believe you will,” said Chilton, clapping Tucker on the back. “Here’s my card. I’m in seat number twelve, car eleven. Come find me when we pull into Vegas.”

Tucker looked down at the business card in his hand. It read:
“Robert Lee Chilton, Proprietor, Gold Rush Casino and Resort.”

Tucker looked at his wristwatch. 3:30pm. He still had two hours to kill before the train was scheduled to reach Las Vegas.

He headed back to the dining car for another Coors Light.


Las Vegas Central Station was an enormous building. As Tucker stepped off the train he looked up and saw that the ceiling was set massive with screens that displayed dozens of ads for casinos and shows and restaurants. He reached up to help Chilton step down onto the platform and together they walked to a customs gate where all the passengers were queuing up. Above the gate were the words, in neon:

“Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.”

Below that, in a more official-looking sans serif:

“Member of the Mutualist Collective of Nevada.”

Tucker moved to queue up but Chilton grabbed his arm.

“We ain’t gonna wait in line like a buncha yokels,” said Chilton. “I’ve got residency. Come with me.” Chilton lead Tucker around to a small secondary entrance around a corner, where a handful of locals were being ushered through a much faster line.

Chilton explained that Tucker was with him, and after passing through an X-ray they were allowed through to the main concourse.

“Let’s get you your allowance,” said Chilton, guiding Tucker up to a service window under a banner that read “UAC Citizen Services.”

“Go show that lady your passport, tell’er you’re a newcomer,” said Chilton.

Tucker did so.

“How long will you be in town?” asked the woman behind the counter, who was smacking gum boredly. She wore a gray smock that was sort of like the ones back at the Denver welcoming center, only different somehow.

“Just tonight,” said Tucker.

“Here’s your one hundred dollar allowance,” said the woman, pushing ten crisp new ten dollar bills to Tucker. “If you have any trouble while you’re in town you can call this number.” She pushed a pamphlet towards him, as well.

The pamphlet had the words “Union of American Communes, Civil Services Confederation, Bulletin on Visitation of Las Vegas Mutualist Collective” in big bold words at the top. He picked it up and turned it over. On the back it read: “Problem Gamblers HelpLine,” along with a phone number.

Tucker thanked her.

“Enjoy your trip,” she said, without enthusiasm.

As Tucker walked along beside Chilton, he examined the currency he’d been issued. It was orange and black and seemed to be made of a plasticy material. It felt a lot more slippery than the stuff they used back home. A bearded man stared out at him from the front of each bill, and beneath each portrait was printed the name “PROUDHON.” The reverse featured a big white star and some kind of ugly-looking goat or something with huge, curling horns.

“That should be enough for you to see you a show, have you a nice dinner, and still play you some table games beside,” said Chilton. He lead Tucker out of the concourse and into the open air. They were standing under a large covered depot. Buses were lined up along the street, waiting for passengers.

Chilton guided Tucker past the buses, to another row behind. This one had taxis and private cars queued up, their drivers milling around in the calm before the storm of disembarked passengers were to descend upon them. One of the drivers wore a black cap with a glossy brim and held a sign with Chilton’s name scribbled on it in black marker.

“Here’s our ride,” said Chilton. Tucker helped him up into the back of the sleek-looking Vietnamese-made sedan.

“Got you a new car, Ernie?” asked Chilton.

“Yessir, Mr. Chilton,” said the driver, glancing back into his rear mirror as he started the engine. “I just bought’er. Whadaya think?”

Chilton eased back into the seat, which was plush leather. “Beats walkin’, anyway,” said Chilton.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 5.

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