HE GLANCED AT HIS wrist computer, the digital readout displaying 14:40 Mountain Standard Time. His sunglasses obscured the little light that came from the bar next to the small stage. This was in Jason's Brewery, and it was just the "hole in the wall" James Steinberg had expected it would be. It was perfect for a meeting place, small, inconspicuous, dark, and nestled amongst a row of larger buildings. Its only advertisement was a red neon sign displaying Jason's in cursive writing and a simple open sign on the entrance door's window. It was a place where familiar locals congregated for a beer and a game of pool or darts, one of the very few and vanishing establishments of its kind. Alcohol was still allowed in Unsowesta, but coming across establishments willing to purchase the very expensive license to sell it to the public was seemingly getting more difficult by the day. This was one place that didn't scan biochips since the owner knew all his customers by their first name. To James, it seemed like a place for mainly Leftovers and a few daring Ujeens coming to escape the bitter realities of life and mass mind control. It certainly was not fancy, but a safe haven for those who looked like they would gladly mastermind a revolt against the increasingly suffocating totalitarian regime of Kernswood. James was taking a liking to these places, the kind that attracted rugged ordinary people willing to sooth their troubled minds with a beer or two. And, being located in an underground like location of one of Las Vegas' oldest red light districts, he felt at home. His eyes watered as the nicotine laced air penetrated every crevice of his head, but somehow it was welcoming to him. He scanned the area, making sure there were no IrisTrac cameras or other surveillance equipment that could give him away even though this establishment boasted its "no camera" policy. In the meantime Amber wasn't having much fun with this location Zeke picked as a meeting place. Her eyes protested at the stench of cigarette smoke, causing her to go to the bathroom and water them down.
When she came back out, the Elvis impersonator suddenly caught their attention as he began singing and swinging his hips to a version of the ancient Heartbreak Hotel song. Would this city ever lose its craze for this still famous artist, dead for more than sixty years? Despite the oppressive government of Unsowesta and the censorship that grew like a ravaging cancer throughout the country, too many in Vegas would make sure the memory of Elvis Presley would never fade into oblivion.
When his short gig was done and his hips were parked, the Elvis look alike lowered his thick rimmed frames and stared their direction. James let out a brief chuckle, accidentally spitting out some beer from his full mouth catching Amber's attention. The big black hair, thick sideburns and studded white outfit was too much, so humorous that it made him cough out the remainder of the beer in his mouth. Amber, not looking too entertained sat beside him wondering if he was intoxicated with comedy, alcohol or both. "My Lord, and this is only his first?" In her mind, this was no time to relax, no time to party even if it was for just a few minutes. "Stein!" she called.
"I'm sorry Amber, but this guy is hilarious," he said as he laughed and wiped his sweaty brow and the brew from his mouth with his bare hand.
"Oh my Lord! This is no time for nonsense!"
He wiped his face with a paper napkin, raised his bald head and turned his eyes to her, a smirk painted on his face. "Will you relax a little? I hope you don't mind, but I just have to savour some of life's little victories. You should try it, or you will soon discover that life is indeed too short and too many of you young people will have passed into old age having taken life too seriously."
"There will be a time and a place for this. But, now is not the…"
"Okay, Amber," he said, this time with a serious voice. "Look, I'm not drunk and I'm not letting my guard down. I'm glad you are with me on this since I don't think we could have gotten the Monroes out of the country…"
"Just my point! How do we know they got out and are still alive?"
He took her hand and gripped them gently but firmly, the faint smell of beer in his breath hitting her face. "We don't Amber. We don't know for sure if they got out alive or not. I haven't been able to contact them, and they haven't contacted me."
Amber sighed in disgust as the Elvis look alike gestured to the couple with his head to walk to the corner of the small bar to the entrance to the backstage. "Look, he's signalling us," James said.
James shot a brief gaze back to her, removing his sunglasses and giving her a concerned look. "I didn't mean to embarrass you or not take you seriously. You're right. Now that I think of it, we have little time to waste. And with George and Joanne's situation still a mystery to us, we need to keep our game faces on." He gazed down at the scratched wooden floor looking a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he said with a softer voice.
She wasted no time embracing him, feeling a little ashamed and wondering if she should heed some of his advice and lighten up a little. James shot a glance back at the Elvis look alike who gestured him again to move to the backstage entrance. "We got to get going. Mr. Motor Hips is calling us," he said after downing the last of his beer.
James stood from the bar stool and walked to the dimly lit backstage entrance. Amber put her half full beer mug down on the bar and followed. They walked through the narrow hallway lit by a single ceiling light bulb that led to a small wooden door, the Elvis look alike peering at the hallway entrance looking behind them to make sure they weren't being followed. As Amber and James passed through the doorway entrance, the impersonator shut the door, took off his thick lenses and instantly spoke with his natural voice. "Come with me to my van. We're waiting outside. We don't have much time."
James politely asked, "Who are you, and what about your gig?"
"Gig? Are you listening to me boy? I said we have little time. Now, let's get moving before some cleric cop shows up. Even though they rarely show up here, it's a chance I'm not willing to take."
"You still haven't told me who you are," James said, his voice more gruff.
"We better listen to them," she said, some concern in her voice.
James turned to her, his mouth halfway open, his head shaking, his eyes looking a little worried. "He hasn't told us…" He turned to the impersonator, his voice lowered. "…who he is."
"I don't have to tell you who I am if I don't want to. And, believe me, the less you know about me, the better. Being that you don't seem to trust me, let me show you the door back outside. I'll be sure to let Zeke know you aren't interested in being given a new life outside Unsowesta," the impersonator sarcastically remarked.
"Zeke?" James asked in surprise. "Look, all I am asking for is…"
"What Navy Seal, my name, rank, and serial number?"
James threw up his hands, closed his eyes and shook his head as if surrendering to this actor's demands. "Alright, alright, alright!" He opened his eyes and looked directly at the impersonator. "I'm sorry. I know you are just trying to help."
"Come with me now if you ever want to see a day outside this country in this life," the impersonator remarked with a low rumbling tone of voice.
Amber elbowed James and shook her head, her eyes wide open with surprise. "Stein. I think we need to show a little more cooperation here."
"Curious about what?" the impersonator asked as he turned his back.
"Why haven't you made a run for the border? Why haven't you made your escape?"
The Elvis look alike turned and gave him a coy stare. "My time is coming, Seal. In the meantime, I'm focused on getting both of you out of here. Right now, it's my job. Now for the last time, let's get a move on, shall we?"
The couple went silent, followed the entertainer to the back lot and quickly took a seat in the back of the tour van. Zeke quickly exited the establishment's back door and took the passenger seat. He shot the couple a quick look before resuming his scan of the area. Their eyes lit up, seeing that their friend was alive and well. "Point Beta as we agreed, and I arranged to get you out of here in style," Zeke said with a rather egotistical voice.
"We are still not out of here yet, but I deeply appreciate all you and Elvis are doing," James whispered.
"It will be cool," Zeke responded as Amber reached over and hugged him. Zeke made the hug brief by putting his thick hands on her shoulders and gesturing her with his head to take her seat. He hurriedly spoke, "There'll be time for that later. Meantime, you two need to stay very low. Elvis and I are going to get you to the Heartbreak Hotel Café near the California-Mexico border in San Diego."
James interrupted, "What about Organ Pipe Underground?"
"It's been blown. Once Joanne and George got across…"
"They made it across?" James excitedly asked.
"Yes, just got called that they made it. But, the underground there is now compromised. The insiders were discovered and two of them got their heads split in two by one of their boss's high powered shots. And to think, he only needed one round at more than 400 yards to do the job."
"Two men get their heads shot off with one round? That's an impossible shot even for the world's best sniper," James said incredulously.
"Surprised to hear that from a Seal. Now, we will take this route instead. As it stands, there is a huge manhunt for you two. No disrespect Amber," Zeke said as he scanned the area around him.
"What?" Amber fearfully asked, dread now covering her face.
"The border is saturated with clerics. As best as I see it, once Elvis starts his gig, we will sneak out in another get away vehicle and take an off road trip to a border house and cross through another hidden underground tunnel."
"Whose place?" she asked.
"Don't ask," Zeke abruptly answered back. "It's another rogue border cleric's guesthouse. That's all you need to know right now. I don't know details.
"Now, I'll be following behind and get you two out once we've arrived. You two need to empty your bladders, because we're going to take our time getting to Heartbreak Hotel Café and not risking getting caught by an unnecessary stop. The way I see it, any delay is just that, a delay in getting you two closer to freedom. Now, let's all of us hit the restroom, and then let's hit the road."
"Wouldn't it be best to wait till nightfall?" James asked.
"To empty our bladders, hit the road, or both?"
"To bolt," James said.
Zeke impatiently spoke. "And risk arousing suspicion if Elvis here misses his gig? Besides, they figure that a Navy Seal will probably lay low during the day and move under the cover of darkness the night affords. That's when they will be out looking for you, not that we can't be just as careful during the day. The way I see it, those after you figure you've been up all night and have found someplace to lay your tired heads down for a while. Believe me, I've also been up all night just like you two, being very careful on my way over here to Beta just in case someone caught on to the fact that I had a hand in getting the Gamma Ray up in the air and helping George and Joanne to escape. We're tired and our tempers are bound to flare a little. But, we've got to keep moving."
As much as he hated to admit it, and as tired as his body felt, he knew Zeke was right. Amber also had spoken volumes of truth earlier. This was certainly no time to relax and let a casual attitude get them into trouble. They needed to outsmart, outwit, outthink their pursuers. Boldness alone would only get them caught, or worse, get them killed. Feeling a little humiliated, James wasted no time gesturing Amber to get out of the van and do as they were told. Everyone including the Elvis look alike hurried to the restrooms, took care of business, and hurried back out to the van.