Read Chapter One of THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY--Free!
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
We arrived here by the vermilion cliffs in the dead of night. It wasn’t until I finally rolled out of bed the next morning after the long ride from Bullhead City that I saw how desolate it was there.
I stumbled out of the Motel 6 while buttoning my leathers around my thighs. No shower for me. I was going to get straight down to business and get the fuck out of there.
Holy shit on a crucifix. There was a neat row of pine trees, obviously planted on the opposite side of the highway to blot out some unsavory view. If I looked toward the cinnamon mesas I was greeted by a giant, frisky bull on a tall pole. Dotted lines on his form showed me which cuts of steak I could look forward to.
Oh, and best of all. A weather-battered sign to my right—I suppose it had been neon before being bleached like dinosaur bones in the searing desert sun—told me I was right smack next door to the “Sha-de-land Motor Home Park.” I could also tell by the four dozen or so motor homes parked in the dust that it was not a shady land. At seven in the morning, it was already sixty-three degrees, according to the handy thermometer stuck to the wall sponsored by a lava rock quarry.
I wanted to kill Breakiron. He would have to get us sent to Cornucopia, Utah during August. This was all his fucking fault. I’d done nothing serious to deserve this exile. Papa Ewey would only send club members in bad standing to a hellhole like this, and it was ninety-nine percent Breakiron’s fucking fault.
“What am I doing here?” I muttered, wandering to my scoot to get my cigs from my saddlebags. I’d been trying to quit for six months. Smoking had been banned from our clubhouse since Papa Ewey had had one of those lung cancer holes drilled in the pit of his throat three years ago, but there were still plenty of members smoking outside, so it wasn’t easy. I’d quit every night, flush them down the toilet, then thrash it first thing the next morning to the store to buy a fresh pack. I hadn’t flushed them last night. Too exhausted and pissed off at fucking Breakiron for getting us into this mess.
What am I doing here? The dogs of hell must've been unleashed and chased me out of heaven. What did I do to deserve such a fate? I'm going to get this mission accomplished, get the fuck out of here before I die. Die of heat, dust, dehydration, or plain old fucking boredom.
I looked east toward the cliffs. That was all Zion National Park out there, named by Mormons after their promised land failed to pan out, I supposed. Suddenly sun hit a cherry and wine colored rock formation, washing it in blazing righteousness, and a new feeling started to seep into my innards. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad run after all. We’d just be coordinating a shipment of high-grade military weapons with some yahoo fundamentalist leader nearby. I was his boots on the ground to get it all done. Once we set the place and date, we could go home.
Or so I thought.
“Whoo hoo! Bring ‘em Young!”
I rolled my eyes. Tim Breakiron stood next to me, making a lame joke about Brigham Young. Breakiron had been nothing but a thorn in The Assassins of Youth’s side for quite awhile now. He was Veep, second in command to Papa Ewey, but it was like he’d been regressing to childhood the past couple years. If he acted any more immature, he’d be a puddle of sperm and a wallet on the ground. I swear.
Not long ago, Breakiron was sent down to Gila Bend to work with a brother club, the Hellfire Nuts. Something had happened—to this day, no one had spilled exactly what—and Breakiron had been found wandering around the Mojave Desert severely tweaked, existing on berries or cactus flowers or whatever one ate out there. It was only through the help of some hippie “vision questers” chanting in some circle of life that Breakiron had even been brought back to civilization. Of course, in a motorcycle club, you didn’t exactly give people herbal tea and send them to bed, especially when they’d committed some kind of crime against the club.
So for his sins he’d been given this mission. And for my sins I’d been ordered along, like some god damned nursery school teacher.
“Bring ‘em Young!” Breakiron made a fist and saluted the sky. “I say bring on these polygs!”
“They’re not all polygs, Breakiron,” I said, already weary. “Most of them aren’t, hate to tell you.” He was the sort of guy who probably thought the polygs just lay around humping all their wives all day. As if they had nothing better to do.
He elbowed me. I could already smell at this early time of day the sour odor of whiskey on his breath. “Can you picture it, Bigmouth?” He was the only one who called me Bigmouth. It was due to a six pack of Mickey’s Big Mouth I’d drank once before eating out some lamb. No big deal, but it was the sort of thing that struck a guy like Breakiron with intense hilarity. “Banging six wives at once?”
“It’d actually be kind of hard, Breakiron, banging six gals at once.”
He slapped his own stomach. “Hoo, hard! Yeah, it sure would be hard, wouldn’t it?”
If I rolled my eyes any more strenuously they’d vanish into my skull. “Listen, Breakiron. I have to call this polyg. We still don’t have directions into their top secret compound, and I’d fucking like to get back to Bullhead before sundown, if you know what I mean.”
Breakiron didn’t know what I meant, so I stepped around the corner of the building to call Allred Lee Chiles. The colorful eroded plateaus of Zion were flaming with color now. Chiles had shipped a special burner phone down to Bullhead for me to use, explaining that “circles only call within circles.” I guess he had like thirty different burners for thirty different circles of people doing different things for him. This way he minimized his exposure. Smart.
I knew very little about Allred Chiles. He had a lot of wives, some of them under seventeen, which was why he’d been sort of forced into this little enclave. He was excommunicated from the mainstream church maybe twenty years ago, and then shunned once again, a splinter of a splinter faction. Papa Ewey had told me that the more fractured Chiles’ group had become, the more out there with their rules and regulations. We didn’t care, of course. We’d run guns with Charles Manson if he gave us a good price.
“Mr. Chiles.” I had no idea what to call him. He wasn’t my damned prophet. I didn’t give two shits about the Church of Good Fortune.
“Mr. Fortunati.” It seemed I’d made the right choice, calling him mister. His voice was calm, brittle, and reedy, like you could knock him over with one breath. “I see you got my package, so you must have gotten my directions.”
“Ah, no,” I had to admit. “My President just told me to call you when I got to the Motel 6 in Avalanche.”
“Hmph.” I could tell Mr. Chiles was irritated. Now he’d have to give me directions all over again.
There would be no signs for the burg of Cornucopia. There would be an elaborate stone wall, due to Chiles owning a couple of quarries, and a guard stationed remotely downtown would buzz me through the gate. As long as I identified myself as Reed Smoot, I’d be let in.
“Why Reed Smoot?” I was stupid enough to ask.
“Just do it, or you won’t get in.”
I had the feeling his “ask no questions” approach was the way Chiles handled everything. And why the fuck not? He was a prophet in his own way. He’d had enough vision to found this empire. He ran the show. He was the guy with three dozen wives. He must be doing something right.
“Okay. And what should my associate call himself?”
“Associate?” Chiles’ tone was downright nasty now. “I didn’t say nothing about no associate. Come alone.” Click.
Well. What the fuck. I was used to doing dirty work like this with dickheaded customers like Allred Lee Chiles. I could handle it. If you go around taking everything personally in this world, you don’t get very far.
Breakiron, however, took it personally.
“What the fuck!” he fumed as I shaved in my room’s bathroom. “I was the one sent up here by Papa Ewey! I was the one entrusted with this run! You just came along for the fucking ride. I should be Reed Smoot.” He flexed his stupid biceps, his inked sleeve of an engine that said “Highway to Hell.”
I rinsed off my razor in the sink. “You should be Reed Assmuncher if this is what Mr. Chiles tell us to do.”
Breakiron fretted. “Mr. Chiles, my ass. He’s been hanging out at Burning Man too much if he thinks I’m going to just sit on the sidelines and do nothing.” Breakiron thought everyone in Nevada and Utah hung out at Burning Man. I think the hippies who found him wandering in the desert were on their way to Burning Man, so it stuck in his memory banks.
But Breakiron didn’t follow my bike back down the highway to the abandoned diner where I was supposed to turn. Good God in an evil world, as I liked to say. The saying was especially apropos at the moment. That asshat Breakiron was enough to test the patience of Job. I missed my gal Chelsea with a passion so heavy it tore my chest in two, and I couldn’t even text her. Or could I?
I relaxed a little as I rode. Apparently this enclave of Cornucopia was nestled in a bunch of valleys surrounded by the same vermilion cliffs I’d seen earlier. The shale and sandstone were so multilayered it looked like a bunch of cakes that had uplifted and eroded over millions of years, cakes made of cinnamon, custard, red velvet. The Assassins went on runs up to Salt Lake sometimes, but I’d never been able to detour off toward Zion. We were always in too big of a hurry to wreak some havoc.
I’d always had an interest in geology, and I soaked in the views on the way to the stone wall that separated Cornucopia from the outside. The stands of cottonwood, still rangy and dull green this time of summer, would be brilliant yellow soon. Some ratty pinyon pines had been planted to show the way to a mine, maybe an open pit copper mine over the next rise. I started thinking once I completed this hardware run I could maybe take a day or two to explore the area. I’d seen a battered building back in Avalanche claiming it was a rock shop, but of course no lights could be seen through the dusty windows. It seemed like the booming suburb of Avalanche had died of natural causes—or been strangled to death—twenty years ago when Cornucopia had flourished.
I was soon to find out why everyone had bailed from the scene.
There was the rock wall Chiles had talked of. When I stopped to talk into the intercom, I noted another scoot coming like a bat out of hell behind me. Guy must’ve been doing a hundred, hundred and ten on his ’71 Super Glide. How the hell did Breakiron know the gate would open when it did? But it did, and Breakiron was ripping it up so heavily he got through the gate before me. Flipping me off gleefully, of course.
Naturally, the guy on the intercom didn’t like that one bit. “Who the fuck was that?” The religious zealot got all sweary. “Who’s that fucking asshole who just blazed through the gate?”
“Sorry about that, sorry!” I was frantic in my apologies. “That’s my associate. I swear to God I didn’t know he was back there! Can I come in now?”
The gate started to close. The guy was saying, “Now this wasn’t part of the deal you made with Allred—” but I was already inside the compound.
The weird, freaky, bizarre as-seen-on-TV compound.
The place that would change my life irreversibly.
Riding slower now, I gave up all hope of finding Breakiron. I figured someone would pop out to stop me, so I just tooled along. About a mile from the gate the buildings started. Strange, Cape Cod-style saltboxes, the main difference being these things sprawled like barracks, room after room added on past the front door. A couple of Humvees patrolled the streets like there was a curfew in place, but no one stopped me. There were businesses that any citizen would need, like a plumber, hairdresser, and bookstore. Only, I had the feeling the bookstore only sold one genre, and the hairdresser only did one style.
A few ordinary vehicles drove sedately around, and I passed a temple, a sign for what looked like a coal mine, and a school. This was where I started seeing the women in prairie garb and sun bonnets. The plain ankle-length dresses with puffy sleeves gave the women the look of old-timey prison inmates. The women without bonnets displayed, contrary to all expectations, elaborate hairdos. Waist-length hair was rolled, coiled, and beaten into submission like penitent crowns.