Don’t seem that much different – The Newcomer – Chapter 5

Note: this is Chapter 5 in an ongoing series of speculative fiction about an alternative history of the USA. Chapter 1 can be found here.

Tucker found himself standing in the shade of the portico of the Gold Rush with a cigarette in his hand. The warm fresh air was welcome after the last frantic hour he’d spent in the casino, but the cigarette was troubling. This would have to be the last one.

“Thanks,” said Tucker, as Travis offered him a light.

“Hey, I was about to walk over to Fremont to meet some ‘rads. Couple of other transers. You wanna come with? We’ll grab dinner and a few beers.”

“I got an early start tomorrow,” said Tucker, hesitantly.

“Hey, I have an early morning shift, myself. We’ll catch a cab back together, be home by 10.”

Travis had that youthful way of being convincing, and Tucker really didn’t have anything better to do. “Sure.”

“C’mon, I’ll give you a little tour of the real Las Vegas. We’ll take the back streets.”

The sun was setting and it was starting to cool down, which made it nice for walking. Tucker could make out the sun setting behind some of the taller casino buildings on the strip. The sun seemed different, somehow, out here in the desert. More awesome. At least to Tucker’s eyes. Maybe it was the nicotine.

Tucker was chatting with some people on his smartphone as they strolled along, so Tucker enjoyed the relative calm of Sands as it turned into East Twain. There were some apartments, here, festooned with black and orange flags and banners that said things like “Las Vegas Casino Workers Syndicate #038” and “Union of Gaming Workers #22.” One large banner said “Code 0*3#37!”

Tucker tilted his head, pausing for a moment to try to decipher it.

“What’s a Code Zero?” asked Tucker.

“Ah, that kinda means ‘vote no.’ Goes back to the old days before smart phones, when you could televote through SMS. It was kind of a pain in the ass. Most of Las Vegas was using a points-based voting system back then, so you could assign a certain number of points to each option for each issue. So that means ‘give zero points to option three of proposition 37.’ Kind of an old-school joke, but they’re being serious.”

“What’s option three of proposition 37?”

“C-Dub-S is having a major vote on whether or not to merge with the big Sex Workers Union in town, that’s what prop 37 is all about. Option three is a full merger. Sex work’s super controversial here. A lot of abolitionists with c-dubs. Yaknow, Casino workers. If you ask me it’s because they don’t like the business competition.”

“I thought prostitution was illegal out West?”

“You can’t really think of it that way. It’s not that it’s illegal, it’s just that most places don’t have much incentive for prostitution. Easy to find better ways to make a living. But there are sex workers all over, even up North. They’re just a lot more discrete everywhere else outside of Nevada. This is the only place where it’s still kind of a business. Well, Nevada and Cancun. They’re mutualist, too.”

“Don’t seem much that different than back East,” said Tucker. They were strolling up to a McDonald’s, now, which punctuated his point. Tucker stood there, staring in disbelief.

“That’s not a real McDonald’s,” said Tucker, with a laugh. “Looks pretty legit, though, don’t it? It’s mostly there for the foreign tourists who only have a few days to travel but want to take in as much of the states as they can… For better and for worse. Almost kinda like a museum or something.”

Tucker saw a Vietnamese family pouring out of a shiny rental van. Tucker had never heard Vietnamese spoken, before, and his whole head turned when he heard the strange, effluvient tones of their language.

“Yaknow, I’m not sure if you know this, but Nevada is kind of the black sheep of the UAC,” said Travis, pulling out another cigarette. Travis felt a pang of hunger for the tobacco. He could smell that raisiny smell of the open pack. He managed to refrain when Travis offered one to him.

“On account of the mutualism?” asked Tucker, trying his best not to stare as Travis lit the cigarette.

“That,” said Travis, taking his first puff, “and the ties they have back East. But, funny enough, that’s also the main reason they’re tolerated. Vegas pulls in cappy currency in a big way. We get mostly locals at the Gold Rush, but most of the tourists on the strip are from the States, from Europe, from Japan. Even some Koreans.”

“North, or South?” asked Tucker.

“Both,” said Travis. “The casinos of Las Vegas will fleece you no matter where you’re from. And they do a lot of trade. Not all of it legit.”

It was fully night, now, and the street was getting rougher as they advanced towards Fremont. It was starting to feel a little like his old neighborhood back in Atlanta.

“This is why I wanted you to come with me,” said Travis. “I wanted you to see this. Check it out.”

“It” was an addict. Tucker knew an addict, could tell from the way she walked. She walked up to them, scratching her upper arm. “You got any spare change, ‘rads?” she asked. “My car broke down, and I need…”

Travis tucked a five dollar poker chip into her palm, and she stopped talking, shuffling off to find someone else to ask.

“They got meth here?” asked Tucker, surprised.

“They got it all,” said Travis. “And it’s free, at least for locals. Along with the drug treatment therapy, though a lot of big casinos try to fight both those programs every year. That’s not why she’s begging. She wants to gamble.”

“Free drugs?”

“Oh, yeah, different communes deal with drugs in different ways, you’ll find, but Nevadans aren’t big on teetotalling. So we distribute the drugs and try to help folks clean up. It works out okay. The gambling addicts are a lot worse than the drug victims, in terms of begging. That’s one area where the big casinos don’t mess around. No free chips for anyone, except at some of those ‘just for fun’ casinos the Mormons run.”

“So the big casinos have a lot of weight to throw around?” asked Tucker.

“Oh, yeah. That’s the thing about mutualism, yaknow. Workers might own the businesses but there’s still wealth accumulation, and where there’s wealth there’s power. That’s what I mean when I say Nevada’s a black sheep. The other communes aren’t big on power differentials like that.”

Another beggar came up. This one had on flip flops and a tank top and one of those bucket hats you wore to go fishing. He had long, stringy hair, looked to be a little older than Travis. Didn’t seem to be on any drugs.

“Yo, I’m tryin’ to get home, could I get some change for the bus?” asked the young man. He had the strongest Southern Californian accent Tucker had ever heard.

“You know I can’t give you anything, Brody,” said Travis. “You gotta go get help, ‘rad.”

“I really just need a bus ride, man. Come on.”

“They’ll let you ride for free if you claim indigence, Brody. You come on.”

“Come on man, I ain’t played in three weeks. I’m off that shit for good. Just help me out a little, comrade.”

Travis sighed, reaching into his pocket.

“Stay away from the tables, tonight, okay, buddy?” said Travis, flipping him a dollar chip from the Gold Rush. “If I see you comin’ out when I’m goin’ in in the morning we’re gonna have words.”

“Thanks, ‘rad,” said Brody. “Don’t worry, like I said, I’m done with that shit.”

Brody walked off in the opposite direction.

“Damnit,” said Travis. “He’s headed straight for the Gold Rush. I gotta get him on the No Play List.”

“Seem to be a lot of beggars here,” said Tucker.

“We’re basically smack in the middle between the strip and Fremont Street, so this is kind of a hot spot for panhandlers. Maybe we should take a cab or I’m not gonna have anything left to buy our beer,” said Travis.

Tucker considered suggesting that Travis could just say no, but he could see that saying no was quite counter to the young man’s nature. So instead, he said nothing.

Travis spotted a bright pink cab parked just up the street, so they ran up and hopped in the back. The driver was smoking a huge cigar, which further exacerbated Tucker’s tobacco hunger, but he rolled down the window and tried to breathe in fresh air from outside.

“Fremont Street,” said Travis.

Fremont Street had a totally different atmosphere than the strip. Everything was a little more run-down, but something about that appealed to Tucker. There weren’t so many of those big LED displays, more of those old-fashioned signs that were spotted with tungsten bulbs. Or at least LED bulbs that were made to look like Tungstens.

The street performers here were a bit more rough around the edges, but somehow they seemed more seasoned and professional in their own way. A pair of jugglers were hurling around bowling balls like they were made of lightweight plastic (maybe they were?). A clown on stilts was picking her way through the crowd, high enough up that it made Tucker nervous just to watch.

“Right in there,” said Travis, and they meandered through the crowd into a little pub called “Rosa’s,” which seemed to have a German theme.

It was quiet inside, at least compared to the bustling crowd outside, and Travis made a beeline to a table filled with other young people, all wearing stripped-down casino uniforms. Most wore a tuxedo shirt with the top buttons undone and the name tags removed just like Travis, but a few wore more exotic ensembles. One woman wore a fairly authentic-looking silk kimono, and another wore what looked to be a dress from back when there were kings and knights and things.

“This is Mr. Tucker,” said Travis.

Tucker felt himself bristle at that “Mr.”

“He’s from back East, Atlanta. He’s a Newcomer.”

Suddenly, the entire table gave out a little cheer, and Tucker felt some hands clapping him on the shoulder, and found everyone offering him their hands to shake.

“Congratulations,” said everyone, “Welcome out West!” “Welcome to Vegas!”

Tucker felt himself flushing. He didn’t like this kind of attention, so he tried to turn it back to Travis.

“Travis here rescued me from a drunk, today,” said Tucker.

“Well, it wasn’t really a rescue,” said Travis, and he began to tell the story.

Tucker didn’t listen. Instead he looked around at all the things on the walls. There was an old accordion, a lot of German beer signs, some of those leather pants they wore over there. Tucker’s mind was wandering, wondering if they still wore those pants. They didn’t look very comfortable.

His eyes scanned over everyone as they listened to Travis and occasionally chimed in. He felt a bit startled when he landed on a familiar, pretty face. That waitress from before, with Chilton. What was her name? Contessa?

Everyone burst into laughter and another round of applause. Apparently Travis had finished his story. Tucker made himself laugh, as well.

“So what made you decide to come out West?” asked the woman in the kimono.

“I wanted to see what it was like,” said Tucker.

“Well? What’s it like?” asked a young man in a black tuxedo shirt.

“It’s different,” said Tucker. “But this city feels a little bit like home.”

“All the vice, but twice as nice,” said the woman in the kimono.

“I’ll drink to that,” said Travis. They all raised their glasses.

Someone shoved a big mug of black beer into Tucker’s hand, so he could raise one, too.

Tucker didn’t usually need an alarm, but somehow he knew he’d slept later than he wanted to, this morning. His head was pounding as he looked at his watch. Seven. He’d hoped to be up by six.

He sat up in bed and rubbed his temples, squeezing his eyes shut. His ears had that numb feeling from a night spent out in places that were loud. He looked around and saw his clothes strewn here and there. Heard water running in the bathroom.

She peeked out from within the bathroom and grinned that wide, gorgeous grin.

“You’d better get dressed, Marvin,” said Vanessa.

Tucker’s eyes widened. The memories from the night before flashed back in pulses. That delicious German pork chop thing with the cheesy pasta. More drinks. Losing a few hands at Blackjack. More drinks. Dancing. With Vanessa. And the rest of it. He pulled the sheet up to cover himself, sheepishly.

“Oh, come on, honey, you definitely don’t have anything I haven’t seen before,” teased Vanessa. She was wearing her uniform, now, and just fastening on her name tag.

“I gotta get down to work,” she said, “and you’ve got a train to catch.”

He nodded, at a loss for words.

She crossed the room to the side of the bed and tapped a little slip of paper she’d left on the nightstand with an email address scrawled out on it.

“Write to me, would ya? I might be swinging up through San Francisco in a couple months, maybe we can grab a drink.”

He simply nodded. She leaned over the bed and kissed him deeply.

“Take care of yourself, handsome,” she said. “Gotta run.”

He saw her legs, long and glossy with black nylons, as she disappeared. She closed the door behind her.

He felt dizzy, a little giddy. His head still pounded. He remembered the time.

“God, damn,” he said, reaching for his underwear on the lampshade, and almost falling from the bed. He repeated: “God, damn!”

Next: Chapter 6: It Was a Good Movie, Though

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2 Responses to “Don’t seem that much different – The Newcomer – Chapter 5

  • Nice work, I’m looking forward to Tucker’s first day on the job!

  • The Dragoon Made of Plasma
    5 years ago

    Hey, just thought I’d leave my first ever comment on this forum and give my opinion on one of its posts. I’m absolutely enjoying this series, it only increases my will to fight to live in an universe such as this one you have crafted, Emerican. Even as someone who finds mutualism to be okay-ish when compared to the more viable and influential anarcho-communism, it would definitely be fun to explore this orange Las Vegas, try my luck at the casinos, have a drink at the finest pubs, meet exotic new people, etc. Also, one night stands with trans peeps FTW!

    Looking forward to Episode 6. Keep up the good work!

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