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?”

“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.”


“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.

3 Responses to “Crossing Paths – The Newcomer Chapter 3

  • It’s been a while since I’ve read something that created a world that I really wanted to immerse myself in, so thank you for providing that. I look forward to experiencing chapter 4.

  • Fascinating story.
    Is this deliberate: “just like bac East”

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