[Pages from the uncorrected proof. To purchase the limited illustrated hardbound edition of this novel go to The Stu Store at Squareup.com. To purchase the non-illustrated ebook, go to those places where ebooks are sold.]
Arthur “Artie” Saum
Monday, February 17th, 2076: 2:05 p.m.
Giffords Adult Care Center
“Hi, Martha,” I say. I like calling Mom by her first name. Don’t know why. Just do.
“Arthur,” she says, looking up from her comfy old chair. The Flex-TV is on but the sound’s turned down. Looks like an old movie. Braveheart, I think. I hate Flex-TV.
“Where have you been?” Mom demands.
“I was here a couple days ago. I visit you twice a week or thereabouts.”
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” she says, almost yelling now.
I place my hand on her arm. My touch seems to calm her.
“Why am I here?” she asks, like a scared little girl.
“Well, Mom. You have this brain thing.” I tend to tell her the whole story about twice a month. The hard facts don’t seem to bother her. They seem to relax her.
“You’ve been at Giffords Adult Care Center for about five years now,” I say.
“Really?” Mom says.
“Yep. Five years plus. You got sick when I was 16. You’re 50 now. Dad’s been dead almost 20 years. Died in Saudi. Nannie died during the 41 Nights. So did Poppa Ball. Or at least we think they did. Char is still alive in San Francisco. She loves you very much.”
I talked with Char just a couple weeks ago on G’s Sat-phone. She sent her love to my mom.
“Georgia loves you, too. She’ll come and visit you in a couple of days. And Mom, I love you.”
Mom’s quiet, not in a good way. Her face has a passive affect like a barely awake infant. I really wish Mom and I could have a regular conversation, but we can’t. Mom’s been through enough. I’m glad she can’t remember and I’m glad the Feds provide good homes for people like her. More than glad. Profoundly grateful.
“Mom, there’s something else I have to tell you.”
“Georgia and I are going to go visit Char on the train,” I say. “We’re going to see her, and bring back Granddad’s harmonium. We’ll be away for a while. Probably a month. Maybe less. I won’t be here to visit twice a week for a while.”
Martha is trying to puzzle what I’ve said. I can see the gears working. I’ve given her too much to think about. Let me try a different approach.
“Mom, I’m going to San Francisco to visit Char. Char is sick. I’ve never met her in person, you know. I need to see her. And I need to pick up something of Granddad’s”
“You’ve never met Chartreuse?”
“And she has something of Peter’s?”
“Yes, she does.”
“Well, you need to go!”
“Are you taking anyone with you? I can go with you, you know.”
“No, Mom. You’re too sick with the brain thing. Georgia is coming with me.”
“Oh good. I love Georgia.”
“I know, and she loves you too.”
Mom looks at the Flex-TV again. Looks like Mel Gibson has a sword in his hand and blue paint on his face. Weird. Mom looks back at me, as if she’s seeing me for the first time today.
“Arthur! Where have you been?”
Georgia “G” Swann
Tuesday, February 18th, 2076: 1:05 a.m.
New Chicks Coffee Shop
Downtown Tucson, Arizona
“Chessie, I’ve closed out the register and put the cash in the bank bag. You want me to drop if off on my way home?” I ask.
“No, I’ll do it. Busy night.” Chessie says.
“Yes, it was,” I say, doing the last couple things before I leave for the night.
Chessie Dupree’s so pretty with that long black hair and hourglass figure. Wish she could find a good man. Not that she can’t take care of herself without one. She can. I just know she could use some loving, some good hard loving with a tender kiss at the end. Sigh. How did I get so lucky to find Artie? Oh, that’s right. He was that cute jerk I met a few years ago who broke my heart and now he’s not such an asshole anymore. Thank God for Craig and Bill, and their help in Artie’s transformation. Maybe a guy from A.A. and M.T.A. would like Chessie. Nah. That’s not what it’s about, and if sparks do happen between members, we just need to let it be, not push it. They are there to get sober, not get a date.
I just love Chessie so much. She gave me a job and she cares for me like a sister, not a boss. Oh yeah. I’ve got to remind her about Artie’s and my trip. I told her last week, but I don’t know if she really heard me. Or if she just didn’t want to.
“Hey,” I say to her, “I need to talk with you after we close. It won’t take a second.”
“We are closed,” she says.
“Hey, Sammy,” Chessie yells over to a big guy with brown hair and a beard. “Time to hit the streets. I need to sleep,” she says firmly, but with a smile.
“OK, OK, Chessie. Hold your horses,” says Sammy, standing up and putting on his jean jacket. “I’m going.”
“See you tomorrow,” says Chessie.
“You bet. After the meeting,” says Sammy. He’s smiling now. I think he has a crush on the boss. Not her type. She goes for the skinny, tough type. What do I know?
“Take care, Sammy,” she says.
Sammy waves a hand and steps out the front door of the coffee shop.
“OK. Just us,” she says.
“I just wanted to remind you to not put me on the schedule for the month of March. Remember, Artie and I are going to visit his grandmother in San Francisco. I told you last week, I think.”
Chessie looks down. Her long black hair falls in her face.
“Yeah, I remember,” she says.
She looks up and brushes her hair out of her face.
“I’m just nervous for you,” she says. “You know the stories about the bodies in the desert, and you know Phoenix, or rather the hell that was Phoenix....”
She stops talking for a minute.
“Georgia,” she says, “it’s a long way to go just to have some alone time with your boyfriend.”
I chuckle. It’s not that funny, but she’s trying.
“He’s more than just my boyfriend,” I say.
“Yeah, I know,” she says.
“Well,” she says with a wry grin, “you’re going to take your pistol, right?”
“You’re goddamned right I am,” I say.
Now we laugh.
“Need a box of ammo for the trip?” Chessie asks.
I give her a hug.
“Oh, Chessie. That’s so sweet. Yes, we don’t have much ammo.”
Then I start to cry.
“Oh Goddess,” I say through tears.
“Don’t worry, honey,” Chessie says. “I got tons. I like .357s better than .38s anyway. I know you love the .38s for your LadySmith.”
We hug. And both of us cry.
Arthur “Artie” Saum
Friday, February 21th, 2076, 8:15 a.m.
Bill Monroe’s House
I pull out my phone, open it, and check the time. Twenty minutes before I have to be at The Instrument Shop for work. Not soon enough.
“Have you lost your fucking mind?” says Bill, my A.A. sponsor.
He’s not a bad guy. Just wound a little tight. OK, really tight. Well, he was a Master Sergeant in the Marines from ’54 to ’60, and he saw a lot of shit in Saudi, I’m sure. He’s only told me a little. You can always tell those guys who saw major action during the Oil Wars. They hardly talk about it at all, even A.A. guys.
Anyway, Bill’s a good guy. Been sober a long time, over 12 years. He’s just a little short on communication skills is all.
“Why am I asking if you’ve lost your mind?” yells Bill. “Because I know it for a fact! You’re getting on the train to travel to San Francisco to visit your grandmother so you can pick up your grandfather’s synthesizer?”
“Harmonium, not a synthesizer. A portable hand-pumped organ that needs no electricity. Bill, I have to go to work.” I say.
“Harmonium!” repeats Bill.
He places his face in his hands and shakes his head.
“Harmonium,” he says, or I think he says that. Hard to hear what he said as he’s now speaking into the palms of his hands. Sounds like ‘lost his mind’ but I can’t be sure.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Magdalena “Mags” Gutierrez
Wednesday, February 26th, 2076: 8:14 a.m.
Gate’s Pass, west of Tucson
A bite in the air. I breathe it in. Probably around 40°F . I love winter in the desert. And no one’s here. I like to be in the desert alone. Or with Stephanie.
I don’t need to be here. Just want to be here. Nice way to start my shift.
I open the door of my Flex-truck, get behind the wheel, and start it up. I check the batteries. Got a 90% charge. Cool.
Well, time to serve and protect. God Goddess All There Is, be with me today.
Arthur “Artie” Saum
Monday, March 2nd, 2076: 5:12 p.m.
The Instrument Shop
“Tomorrow is my last day before I catch the train, you know,” I say.
“Yeah, I know,” says Pete Rainer, owner of The Instrument Shop. A big man with a white beard. Around 50. Hell of a flat picker.
‘“Paul will do fine fixing guitars and such while I’m gone,” I say.
“Yeah, but he’s not as good as you,” Pete says with a smile.
“You know I think it’s great, Arthur,” continues Pete, “that you’re going to get your granddad’s harmonium. I understand your reasoning about not having it shipped, and that you want to meet your grandmother for the first time, but…”
Pete looks at me with those loving, blue eyes.
“...but I’m just worried for you. We’ve all heard the tales about things in the Mojave.”
“Most of that stuff is just made up by Fox News, to wind people up.” I say. “The BBC says most tracks west of here are clear and safe most of the time.”
“And the truth lies somewhere between Fox and the BBC,” says Pete. “You know that.” Yes I do. The BBC tends to not want to tell too much bad news and Fox News only broadcasts the bad and the ugly.
“I know, just try not to worry,” I say. “Georgia and I are armed and her boss gave us a new box of .38 ammo.”
“Artie, everyone is armed,” Pete says.
I shuffle my feet.
“Georgia is an even better shot than me,” I say.
Pete doesn’t feel like laughing.
“Arthur, you’re a shitty shot,” he says. “Do me a favor. Call the shop from time to time on Georgia’s Sat-phone and let me know how you guys are.”
“I will,” I say. “And you know you are one of the few who knows Georgia has a Sat-phone, right?”
Pete looks around the empty shop.
“No one’s here, Artie,” he says. “No one’s heard.”
“I’m just saying,” I say.
“I’ll be careful with that information,” say Pete. “And for Goddess’s sake, you be careful on your trip and get back here as soon as you can.”
“Paul doesn’t have your confidence,” says Pete. “It takes him forever to service a Martin.”
And with that, Pete walks from behind the counter and gives me a bear hug. I can hardly breathe.
“Pete, I need to breathe,” I say.
He doesn’t let me go..
“You know I love you like a little brother,” he says.
“I know,” I say in a weak voice.
I really do need to breathe.
Peter Saum, Jr.
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2076: 5:17 p.m.
The Upper Atmosphere of the Planet Jupiter
The Other Solar System
Whew. Killer left break around The Great Red Spot today. And Earl thinks he’s so cute when he cuts me off. Steal my wave again, buckaroo, and you’ll feel the rage of The South.
“How’s your grandson?” Earls asks, after we back away from the surf.
“Good. He and his girlfriend are taking the train to San Francisco to see his grandmother.”
“Isn’t that still dangerous?” he asks.
“It’s better, but not great,” I say. “I plan on staying close.”
“Do,” says Earl. “Last September, my granddaughter almost shot a man for stealing a bottle of milk. I sent a big dose of the Love of the Ancestors and she decided not to kill him. Just shot him in the arm and he ran away. Lolly isn’t a killer and killing someone would fuck her up. I think your boy Artie is that sensitive too, right?”
“He is. He’s never killed anymore and he’s a terrible shot,” I say. “Luckily his girlfriend’s pretty tough. She’s a great girl, Georgia, and made of steel. From Wyoming. She killed someone a few years ago. A Mormon Tea manufacturer who was raping a friend of hers. She didn’t think twice about popping a cap in the rapist’s head.”
“Good,” says Earl. “Well, still stay close, Peter. She may be tough but she needs the Light of GGATI like everyone else.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” I say.
“We do more than we think,” Earl says.
“Hey, another set’s coming in,” he continues. “I promise not to cut you off.”
“You’d better not,” I say, and off we fly toward The Great Red Spot.