Chapter 10: Ari Levin, September 9 to 11, Year 1

‘As soon as possible’ became a month. I’ve never been gone from New Zion for more than a couple of days before, and my wives and apostles panicked at the thought of their Prophet leaving them on their own for an indefinite period. It took me weeks to convince them that they’d be fine without me. The only upside to the delay was that I’d get to hunt for the uber-vampire and/or sniper to my heart’s content.

I was nine days into my vacation and I was loving it. For the last week, I’d been traveling north mounted on Harvey, a mustang who’d been saddle broken by Henry Stevens, the best of our Paiute horse trainers. One of the advantages of being the beloved Prophet was that Henry had been genuinely happy to sell me his favorite horse. Harvey had no problems living off the land, and his attempts to buck me off whenever he thought I wasn’t paying enough attention kept our ride interesting.

For the last week, I’d been traveling twenty to thirty miles a day through undeveloped desert that paralleled I-15. The radio towers all along I-15 keep the area free of the usual vampires, and I hadn’t seen anything on two legs for nine days now. It was refreshing to have true solitude.

I was now just a few miles south of Provo. Right after the outbreak, there’d been close to a half million zombies in the Greater Salt Lake City area between Ogden to Provo. The SaLTs had cleared out almost all of them near Fortress Salt Lake but zombies were still fairly common in the outskirts of the old greater Salt Lake City area.

Most animals can detect the undead well before people can. The SaLTs use dogs; a well-trained horse like Harvey can do the same, and he’d been getting skittish over the last quarter mile. There had to be zombies nearby, so I reined him in close and pulled out my Z-sticking spear.

Before the FLDS-SaLT war, the FLDS had split into two factions—the first faction believes that I am their one and only true Prophet; the other faction did not. I made peace with Fortress Salt Lake; the other faction whom I called the Assholes, deliberately provoked a war with them.

Under the leadership of my sixth and hopefully dead psychotic wife Rachel, the Assholes heavily fortified their stronghold in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, figuring to suck the SaLTs into a bloody war of attrition. The SaLTs never set foot in either city. Instead, they herded two hundred thousand zombies into Hildale and Colorado City and the zombies swept both cities clean of life and resolved the FLDS schism. Afterwards, the SaLTs herded the zombies forty miles due south to the Grand Canyon and ran them off the tallest cliff they could find.

The only way permanently neutralize a zombie is to destroy its brain; otherwise, it will eventually heal and regenerate. Recently, thousands of zombies have been slowly making their way back north. My men have been killing them with eight-foot long spears with a four-inch long spring steel spike tip and a small crossbar bolted to the base of the spearhead, much like the European boar spears. They called it Z-sticking.

One of downsides of my role as Fearless Sanctified Leader of the FLDS is that I have to play the part twenty-four/seven/three sixty-five, and the one true prophet and guy with the direct line to Our Heavenly Father does not kill stuff for fun—not even zombies. Back home, even when I’m out on my own, there’s always a chance I’ll be seen by an FLDS scout or patrol. Right now, close to three hundred miles from New Zion, the chances of one of my followers spotting me were almost nil—and what the hell, I’m on vacation anyway.

I was on scrub desert a couple hundred feet away from a subdivision. The zombies came out from between two houses and started screaming as soon as they saw me. Harvey chose that moment to try to buck me off.

I’d been waiting for him to try that shit, so he didn’t get anywhere with it. “Harvey!” I yanked back hard on his bit, and he quieted down, but I could feel him shiver with anticipation as seven zombies shuffled towards us.

When the closest zombie was a hundred feet away, I dug my heels into Harvey’s sides and he charged. He stopped shaking as soon as he started running. I held my spear under my right arm in approved jousting fashion. I barely felt the impact as my spear tip penetrated the zombie’s head, but I felt a tremendous yank on my arm and shoulder as the small horizontal bar at the base of my spear tip smacked hard against the zombie’s skull.

The zombie fell backward as Harvey continued forward while veering away from the other zombies. I kept a firm grip on my spear as my horse’s momentum caused the tip of my spear to pivot behind me, and I felt a sharp tug as the spearhead pulled out of the zombie’s head.

Fifty feet from the pack, I turned Harvey around and charged. Again, I felt the impact of the crossbar on a zombie’s skull. This time around, I was expecting the jolt from the crossbar. I’d watched my guys Z-sticking on several different occasions, but seeing is never quite the same as doing. I’d let the zombies bunch up close together. As the one I’d skewered flew back, another grabbed at Harvey’s head.

A steel shod hoof struck it in the chest and pushed the grabber out of the way. Seventy feet later as I pulled Harvey back around, he rolled his eyes back at me as if to say, ‘Watch what you’re doing, dumbass.’

This time around, I headed Harvey at the zombies at a slow gallop. As we got close, I had him cut to the side to spread the zombies out. I tried nailing the third zombie with an overhead jab. My spear point glanced off its skull.

I kicked Harvey into a gallop again, circled around, and took another try. This time the zombie dropped.

The last four zombies were spread out enough to use the knight technique, and it went fairly quickly. After we’d put the last one down, Harvey and I were dripping with sweat and I could barely hold onto my spear. Grayson and his men routinely stick a hundred or more zombies each in a day. Skill, or lack thereof makes all the difference, but despite my beginner’s mistakes, I had a blast.

According to my terrain map, there was a stream less than a quarter-mile away, so I got off Harvey and walked him around a little bit to cool off before we went over to it. I rubbed him down before I let him drink, washed off my face in the stream, and then saddled up and headed north again. Every few miles, I got off Harvey to give him a break.

I ran across four more zombies. I was too sore and tired for Z-sticking, so I used my suppressed Browning Buckmark to shoot them in head from about twenty feet.

Every twenty miles or so on I-15, there are small fortified towns where travelers can get a meal or stay for the night. I hadn’t visited any of them since I started my vacation because too many FLDS truck drivers and merchants use them. I camped out for the night near Lehi, a long day’s ride from Salt Lake City.

Harvey is chestnut brown with a few splotches of white at his shoulders and neck. In the morning, I dyed his white splotches brown. The FLDS are clean-shaven, and I hadn’t shaved for nine days and had gotten shaggy. I used scissors, razor, and handheld mirror to trim my mustache and beard, and I cut my hair into a buzz cut. It takes a while to get used to contacts, so I’ve been wearing contacts that darkened my unusually light brown, almost yellow eyes for the past nine days.

Very few people can fake accents for very long without making potentially dangerous mistakes. The way I get around this problem is to adopt identities with mixed accents. Take three kids from Ohio and move them to Australia for a couple years and they’ll all mix their American and Australian accents in different ways. One might sound completely Australian, the other wholly American, and the last a weird mixture of both. People with mixed accents randomly drop from one speech pattern to another.

Ari Levin, FLDS Prophet, keeps a rigidly erect posture and habitually moves deliberately and without any wasted motions; he doesn’t drink, smoke, or curse and he never wears a hat. He speaks fluent standard American English with a faint, barely noticeable Israeli accent. Tim Fellows is a solo drifter who dresses like a working rancher, has a constant relaxed slump, drinks for fun and relaxation, and loves a good smoke. His southern California accent belies an early childhood in west Texas, and his speech is peppered with occasional profanity.

Human beings communicate as much with body language as they do with words. Most of us can recognize a close friend or relative in the dark by the way they stand and move. On a subconscious level, a person’s scent and the timber and cadence of their voice is as recognizable as their face.

To complete the transformation, I opened a pack of Marlboro Red, smoked two, and put the butts in my back pockets to give me the distinctive aroma of the habitual smoker. Ari Levin became Tim Fellows.

Fortress Salt Lake is a former suburb of Salt Lake City. A sixty-foot wall with gates large enough to allow two semis to pass side-by-side on the north, south, east, and west walls enclose 1.5 square miles. The south gate handles all the traffic and trade from New Zion, and it’s the busiest; the west gate has the least amount of traffic.

Against the backdrop of the Wasatch Mountain Range to the east and the small cluster of skyscrapers in the old Salt Lake City downtown to the north, Fortress Salt Lake looks tiny.

This close to the Fortress, there are no zombies and I saw other people; most of them afoot or on bicycles. On rare occasions, I saw other horsemen and a few diesel trucks. Starting about a quarter mile away from the walls, there were men and heavy equipment everywhere tearing down abandoned homes and buildings and clearing fields of fire.

The Salties built their gates over major streets; the west and east gates open onto 2100 South. I’d never visited Fortress Salt Lake before, but my people had been trading up here since a few weeks after the war. I wasn’t surprised to see just female guards at the gate. I’d been collecting intel about the Salties from my traders for months.

Fortress Salt Lake has three military services—two exclusively male and one exclusively female. The Salt Lake Troopers or SaLTs are an elite full time professional fighting force led by Director Mark Jones. They’d been the ones who fought the FLDS-SaLT war.

Every able bodied adult male citizen between the ages of sixteen and sixty is in the Reserves. With the exception of a few officers and staff sergeants seconded from the SaLTs, they’re part-time soldiers.

The Valkyries are an all-volunteer, all female force whose sole responsibility is internal security. Emma Dietrich, the mayor’s executive secretary is the no-nonsense, highly professional Colonel-in-Chief of the Valkyries. Rumor has it that the mayor keeps trying to promote her to his Homeland Security Commissioner and she keeps refusing. Apparently, she quite rightly believes that she has more control over the city as his secretary than she would as a member of his cabinet.

I approached the west gate about two hours before sundown. The fifteen foot high and twenty foot wide entrance in the barrier wall is closed by a massive, vertically sliding steel and concrete door, now retracted in the ‘up and open’ position. There was a booth holding four armed Valkyries outside the gate. They were dressed exactly like pre-outbreak police officers and they were all young and attractive. The Salties have good Psy Ops; I’m sure most newcomers feel a wave of nostalgia seeing a vestige of a more comfortable and secure past. It’s also hard to refuse a request from a pretty woman.

A late twenties, slim, freckled girl-next-door type in blue uniform, badge and nametag that proclaimed her ‘S. Flint’ waved me over. I headed Harvey her way as she appraised me. There are two kinds of outbreak survivors: victims who are barely hanging on and still waiting for someone else to rescue them, and those who thrive and prosper despite all that zombies, vampires, and renegade humans can throw at them. I was mounted on a beautiful horse, had well-kept gear and was reasonably clean. Pre-outbreak, I’d have needed a high end Porsche to make the same kind of impression.

“First time here?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” I pulled out the pack of Marlboros. “You mind?”

“Not if you can spare one.”

I feigned surprised. “I thought all of you Mormons didn’t smoke.”

“Not all of us here are Mormons.”

I took one and held out the pack. Harvey snorted as she moved close, and her eyes darted to his head. “It’s okay, he won’t mind you getting close.”

Two of her partners watched with expressions carefully neutral; the third—slightly older and with corporal’s stripes on her sleeves clearly disapproved as Officer Flint smiled and took a cigarette. She got even closer so I could light it for her and then stepped back, inhaled and blew out. “Oh I needed that. You have no idea how expensive it is to get a good smoke around here. Where you coming from?”

I pointed out west. “Southern California, to Nevada then up 93 to Wendover and now here. I’ve got cigarettes, cigars, and bullets to trade.”

The cop looked surprised. “That’s a long way to travel alone.”

I shrugged. “I took my time, traveled mostly through undeveloped areas without a lot of zombies, and” I patted Harvey’s neck “I wasn’t really alone. Name’s Tim Fellows, by the way, and this is Harvey.”

The cop smiled and ran her fingers through her hair, “I’m Sally.” Corporal Spoilsport loudly and carefully enunciated “OFFICER Flint”, Sally looked slightly embarrassed, straightened her posture, and said, “Sorry, Corporal! I’m Officer Flint.”

“Well, Officer Flint, anything I should know or do before” I cocked my head toward the city, “I go in?”

She grinned and said, “Excellent question.” She took a deep breath and went into a well-practiced spiel. “Welcome to Fortress Salt Lake. While you are here, you are subject to our rule of law; our penalties range from fines to execution, and the trial and sentence are usually carried out same day. You may keep your weapons with you, but unlawfully discharging them within the walls is punishable by confiscation, a two-hundred dollar fine, and expulsion. There are no restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, or prostitution, but please enjoy yourself responsibly. Be very sure that you understand that it is not ‘anything goes’ here. If you cause property damage, or unlawfully injure or kill another, you will be punished to the full extent of our law.

“If you wish to keep your horse inside the walls, you must stable him at night, and the going rate is about two dollars Salt Lake a day. You are responsible for cleaning up after him; failure to do so carries a one dollar fine, first instance. It’s about two bucks for a bed in a traveler’s hostel, or you can camp for free in the designated area at Sugarhouse Park. You can barter for anything you want with the goods you have, or you can trade them for Salt Lake City coinage at any store with a sign that says ‘Cash for Goods.’ I’d advise you to check out a couple of different stores before you make a deal.

“Finally, before you are allowed entry, one of our medical technicians will examine you for zombie bites.”

“Do I need to get checked every time I go into the city?”

“Oh, absolutely, no exceptions. We do not want the zombie virus inside the walls; bad enough that it’s still out there. Citizens who work outside the walls are checked once every three days; non-citizens are checked every time.” She flashed a bright smile. “There is an upside to the exam: you get a free hot shower. Some people get checked just for that.”

The gate opened into a chain link fence enclosure with bicycle racks, hitching posts, and a parking area for big rigs. There were converted shipping containers marked ‘ESCORT’, ‘SHOWERS’, ‘EXAMINATION’ and ‘QUARANTINE’.

She pointed inside. “You can tie your horse at the hitching rack, and the escort will take you to the showers.”

I was six feet away from her when I turned around. “Officer Flint.”

“Yes.”

I gave her Tim Fellow’s best boyish grin. “The only person I know in this whole state is you. I’d be grateful if you’d let me buy you a drink and maybe give me a tour of this town.”

I saw Sally’s face flush. “I go off-shift in two hours; I can meet you then.”

“Where?”

“McCool’s. It’s a pub three blocks west of here on this same street. You can’t miss it.”

I tipped my hat. “In two hours.”

My escort was waiting for me before I cleared the entry. They were Valkyries too, but of a very different sort. Both were bigger, older, and tougher-looking than the entry controllers, and were dressed in police jumpsuits, knee and elbow pads, shin and chest protectors, and helmets with face shields. They had holstered semi-autos, spare magazine carriers, and no non-lethal weapons. These gals, while not unfriendly, were all business.

The shorter one said, “Howdy stranger. That’s a fine looking animal you’ve got there.” She indicated with her thumb, “Hitching rack with watering trough is there, and your stuff’ll be secure while you’re inside. Grab flip-flops, towel and washcloth from the baskets inside, soap’s in the shower. Please leave the place as clean as found it. Savannah and I will keep you company while you shower, and then we’ll escort you to see the Doc. Questions?”

“No Ma’am.”

The shower building was open on one side, and had several large black agricultural water containers on the roof for passive solar hot water. Partitions separated the changing area from the shower stalls, and both areas were open to view from the outside. The two escorts waited impassively as I undressed and showered.

After nine days of taking an occasional sponge bath in streams fed by snow melt, the hot shower felt great. I wrapped the towel around my waist and my two new friends escorted me to an exam room, where a sixtyish woman gave my naked, just-washed body a thorough, impersonal exam. The two escorts visibly relaxed when she okayed me to enter Fortress Salt Lake.

I was curious. “Excuse me, Doc, but what happens when you get someone who’s been bitten?”

“Well, Mister, it depends on the person. I can offer painless euthanization in the next room if that’s what they want, and a surprising number of folks do. Or they can go into quarantine until they turn, and we take care of it then. I keep hoping that somebody will turn out to be immune, but it hasn’t happened yet. If they don’t cooperate, the escorts deal with it.”

“Damn straight.” said the smaller one, as she put her hand on her holster. Savannah just smiled behind her face shield.

“All righty then,” the Doc continued, “the escort will take you back to the shower, and you’re free to go about your business.”

The two Valkyries walked me back to Harvey, and still clad in towel and flip-flops, I rummaged in my saddle bags for clothes I’d hand washed in one of those streams three days ago.

There were a bunch of kids milling around outside a walk gate at the far end of the enclosure, and Savannah gave them a thumbs up.

A boy of about twelve ran up to me. “Mister, I’m Chase. For a silver dime, I’ll watch your horse and your gear when you go inside.” He lifted up a bucket. “I’ll even scoop up his poop when he goes. It’s a buck fine if you don’t clean up after your horse, you know. I can take you around while you’re inside, and I know where the best deals, the best bars, and the best fancy houses are.”

“I don’t have any Salt Lake cash yet. What if I pay you in .22 LR bullets?”

A look of pure avarice appeared on the kid’s face. “I’ll do it for twenty.”

“I’ll give you ten, five now and five when I leave.”

The smile he gave me when he said ‘Sure’ told me I should have offered five. I hadn’t paid all that much attention when my traders talked about the price of goods; I probably should have.

“Okay son, let me get dressed, and we’ll get started.” When I came back out, the escort was gone, and the boy had already cleaned up after Harvey once. He quickly pocketed the five .22 LR cartridges I handed him, and then swung himself up behind me once I’d saddled up. He took me to a couple cash-for-goods places and I sold a carton of Marlboros for sixteen one-ounce silver rounds.

Every Fortress Salt Lake citizen has an ID card that doubles as a credit card; non-citizens can get one for ten dollars. For high value transactions, most people use credit cards or checks. Originally, Salties used paper dollar bills signed by Mark Jones as cash for small transactions, but those have become collector’s items. Now they use silver coins. The pre-1964 US ninety-percent silver coins trade at face value; the one-ounce silver bullion coins are worth a dollar twenty-five Salt Lake. Silver pennies and silver half-dimes would be ridiculously tiny and inconvenient, so they round the prices to the nearest ten cents. To keep sufficient specie in circulation, the newly created FSL Mint produces its own ninety-percent silver coins to the old US standard.

It’s the little details that make a convincing identity. I asked a lot of newcomer-style questions. A shopkeeper told me that the Salties use silver instead of gold because gold is just too plentiful. Half the adult-size zombies have gold rings, and almost every abandoned house has gold jewelry.

It’s harder to find silver. Coin shops usually have a modest supply, but most of the good silverware in the abandoned houses is usually just silver-plated. Jewelry stores usually don’t have much silver, and safety deposit boxes almost always have more gold coins than silver.

Limit the supply of anything and it becomes more valuable. When the US government was printing paper money backed by nothing but a promise, a meal at a midmarket restaurant usually went for fifteen to twenty dollars. With silver backing the FSL dollar, one of those meals cost between twenty-five and fifty cents.

Mark Jones, Art Bingham, and the rest of the Fortress Salt Lake leaders are both competent and sneaky. They want their population to grow as fast as possible, and to do that they need volunteers to go out into the wild to advertise as widely as possible.

Salt Lake City has a constant need for consumables like toilet paper, tampons, and canned goods. It’s a rare individual who’ll risk their life for Charmin, Tampax, or Wolf canned chili. Cold hard cash is another matter; people have always been willing to put their lives on the line for cash.

Private salvage crews had already harvested every coin shop, jewelry store, bank, and post office with safety deposit boxes within a couple of hundred miles, and every week they were traveling further. On the way back to Salt Lake, they’d bring back any survivors they’d found and less valuable bulk goods if they had free cargo space.

Few gentiles realize that a significant percentage of church-going, socially conservative Mormons are libertarians. Although eighty percent of the Fortress Salt Lake Citizens are LDS, for the most part nothing recreational is illegal. But a lot of Mormon majority salvage crews refuse to bring back ‘sinful’ goods like coffee, tobacco, and high end booze, on principle.

The ingredients to make beer and grain alcohol are readily available at Salt Lake City; barley and hops grow well here—coffee and tobacco not so much. Coffee, tobacco, and high end booze are now pricey enough that a lot of Mormon salvage crews are spending a lot of time arguing about profit versus principle.

After the kid led me to what he assured me was a good livery stable, I paid him off and let him go. I rented a locker at the stable to store most of my gear.

With fifteen thousand people living in 1.5 square miles, the streets are packed. There’s new construction everywhere; crews are demolishing single-family homes and putting up apartment buildings on every block. Fortress Salt Lake is a boomtown.

I bought a couple tacos from a street cart. I didn’t bother asking the vendor what kind of meat they were. They were too cheap to be beef, elk, venison, or chicken. Hopefully, it was squirrel, rabbit, or pigeon and not rat or roof rabbit . Believe it or not though, all these animals taste alike—especially when they’re taco filling. The tacos were great. I went back and got two more.

For two silver dollars, I could have had a bunk in a room that slept four, but I was on vacation and I had the cash. The hotel clerk wanted six bucks for a single room with a bathroom down the hall, but was more than happy to take two packs of Marlboros. She lit one up before I was out of the lobby.

It was a beautiful night, and I waited for Sally at an outside table at McCool’s. Their house ale was a little light on the hops, but it was cold, and at 10 cents for a twenty-ounce glass, I couldn’t complain.

Vampires kill men almost exclusively, so there were noticeably more women walking by than men, and I got a lot more looks than I would have before the outbreak. I was making eye contact with a particularly good-looking redhead when Sally showed up. I knew she’d arrived, but when I pretended I hadn’t noticed she said, “Hmm!” and didn’t sound all that happy.

I threw the redhead a wink and an apologetic smile and turned to face Sally. My expression was carefully blank as I looked her over. She hadn’t had makeup on earlier, now she’d put on just enough to make a difference. I was glad she hadn’t hidden her freckles.

Her simple green one-piece dress flattered her slim athletic figure, and was cut to just above her knees. I liked her ankles. I met her stern gaze and gave her a huge appreciative smile.

She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t help it: she smiled back.

I took off my hat, stood, and pulled out her chair. “Officer Flint, you look wonderful.”

She sat down. “Call me Sally, and why do I get the feeling you say that to all the girls?”

I sat across from her. Women are attracted to two kinds of men. The first kind are dependable and loyal—the kind that will make the perfect husband. Ari Levin is the epitome of that sort of man. When a woman finds husband material, she wants to show him off to everyone she knows. The second kind of guy is the unmitigated, unreliable player that she’s slightly ashamed to be seen with in public. It’s more fun to play the second kind of guy. My grin was my only answer to her question.

I flagged down the server and ordered a beer for Sally. “Thank you for coming. I was worried that you might not.”

“Really? You don’t look like the kind that gets worried.”

I nodded to admit she scored a point. “Maybe the better word would be ‘wondered’, then.”

This time she actually looked curious, “Why would you wonder if I’d come?”

I toyed with my hat and then looked up. “I’m a realist. You are an extremely attractive woman.” I put up my hand as she started to speak. “No. I’m sure you have a mirror. You’ve seen what I see and there’s no doubt how attractive you are and you don’t know me from Adam. A guy like me always wonders if a woman like you will show.”

Sally shook her head with disbelief but she was smiling. “Fellows, you are so full of shit.”

“No.” I put my hand on top of hers, and I knew I was doing okay when she didn’t pull her hand away. My face was completely serious. I paused until she stopped smiling and then pointed to the nearest Fortress wall. “I’ve spent a lot of time this past year out there. I have to admit I love being in the wild. But there are times when the solitude gets to me. During those times, I imagine being with a woman just like you.”

There was complete silence as Sally tried to figure out how to respond. She clearly wasn’t used to men talking to her like this on the first date. It was fun to play a role just for the hell of it. I let the silence continue and watched her squirm.

She was saved by the server who set down her drink. Sally gulped her beer. To her obvious relief, I changed the subject. “You don’t sound like a local.” She nodded her head. “How’d you end up here?”

“I was driving cross country from New York City to Berkeley, California. I was a couple miles from the Utah -Wyoming border when the outbreak hit. It took me two and a half months to walk from there to Salt Lake City. Where were you on Z-day?”

That was the first time I’d heard it called that. “I was managing a dude ranch in southern California.” I told her a bunch of stories about dumb tourists that made her laugh.”

As I’ve said before, I’m a natural born liar. It would’ve been easy enough to convince Sally to sleep with me with a well-crafted story. But I had asked her out just for fun, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if she didn’t have a chance of getting away. Sally was no dummy; I gave her plenty of hints about what was really going on.

On first glance, I played the part of a man who’d fallen in love at first sight. When it looked like she was on the verge of buying my throwaway Harlequin Romance patter, I purposely said something a little too smooth and practiced. In the end, she understood that I was a player wrapped in bullshit inside more bullshit. I courteously told her lies I knew she wouldn’t believe and I made her laugh.

Sally was saving up for her own condo, so she still lived in a Valkyrie dormitory. We wound up in my hotel room, and kept ourselves pleasantly occupied. The fact that I hadn’t been certain we’d end up sleeping together made it all the sweeter. Afterwards, she told me she usually didn’t do this on the first date, and she hadn’t been with a man for a long time. I decided to believe her.

It was a nice change of pace for both of us.

She gave me all the latest Fortress Salt Lake gossip, including the low down on Victoria and Hiram’s engagement and how he’d beat feet to Twin Falls. This led to a discussion about the northern mystery. The popular consensus was that some of the Hildale and Colorado City FLDS had survived and were gathering forces for a rematch with Fortress Salt Lake. The next most popular theory was that—depending on who you talked to—the Aryan Brotherhood,MS-13, the Hells Angels or some other hate-group or criminal gang was ramping up for their own shot at the big time. A very vocal minority held out for hostile Area 51-type aliens, which was my own personal favorite.

I hoped that Rachel and her crew hadn’t survived. She was a viciously effective combination of crazy and cunning. I’d out-maneuvered her in the past by bugging her smart phone, but even if she’d survived, her phone likely hadn’t. I have a realistic understanding of how good I am—I’m very, very good and I never give my enemies an even break. The problem is that Rachel is just as sneaky as I am and crazy enough to be unpredictable. If I have to take her on again, it’d be a toss-up who’d win. I’m not nearly bored enough to want to take her on.

In this brave new world of zombies and vampires anything’s possible, but some kind of crypto-fascist-gangland-survivalist wannabe-empire builders was more likely than aliens from outer space.

The next morning, the hotel had a set breakfast for ten cents with coffee an additional ten cents, and I gallantly sprung for Sally’s. The coffee was strong and well made and the locally produced ham, eggs, and corn tortillas topped with New Zion’s finest mare cheese were really good. Sally was suitably impressed when I tipped the server the change from a silver round.

I stood up and tipped my hat, “Well Sally, I’ll count the hours ‘til we meet again.”

She smiled at my polite fiction, and responded with her own. “When you’re back this way, be sure to look me up. Good luck and be careful out there.” The last sentence sounded sincere.

As befitted my image of Mister Big Spender, I left her a pack of smokes, which she had no qualms about accepting.

I settled Harvey’s bill, stocked up on supplies, bought maps of Idaho and Boise, and headed north.

Chapter 11: Ari Levin, November 6, Year 1