Old Zeke left the relatively cool interior of The Hilltop Saloon and General Store and settled his weary body into a chair in the shade of the porch. He wouldn’t normally be outside this time of day, but he had heard survivors arriving in the dusty depression below. He didn’t dare step off the porch though. With the ozone layer mostly gone the Arizona sun blazed down far too hot for an old man.
The rad dust winds ain’t too bad today though, he noted, scratching his sun spotted mostly bare scalp. What little there was of his hair was dry and brittle and gray. A wisp of it came out and floated away on the wind.
Things hadn’t been too bad in this part of the rock strewn, radiation scarred desert actually. The weather had settled down considerably in the last year, which is why Zeke had chosen to give up his nomadic lifestyle and opened the saloon on the hill overlooking the broken remains of what was once a cloverleaf junction. It hadn’t been whole in living memory, way back before four counties of the north had been declared uninhabitable by The Third Provisional Government of the State of New Arizona.
A fancy name for a government that didn’t last long, he thought.
He couldn’t recall just how many different governmental bodies had claimed this area in his lifetime but it had been a long list, not that any of them made one bit of difference out here in the real world where everyday was a battle for survival in a land of dwindling resources. The newest government was rumored to be sponsored by an actual remnant of the old U. S. government though. Zeke doubted that, but whoever they were they had done him a favor by sending in scientists to the old northern counties. Those scientists had gone in with rad suits but had come out without them.
“The rad counts are down to acceptable levels”, they had said. “The northern counties of The Sovereign State of Aritexica are now officially open to resettlement.”
And with their proclamation Zeke had a business. The steady stream of settlers looking for a new life in the reopened territory needed supplies. And liquor. People, no matter how poor and destitute, always needed the comfort of booze and as long as Zeke had his secret supply of wasteland whiskey he would be making money from settler and outlaw alike.
Zeke squinted at the vehicles roaring along the three asphalt ribbons that led to the remains of the old cloverleaf and the single road that led from it to the northern counties. An eighteen wheeler loaded down with settlers and guarded by a rocket launcher equipped subcompact barreled down the middle highway.
A Thresher, Zeke noted. 2037 model. I hope that his rocket mag is full. He’s going to need it.
Two motorcycle gangs were racing down the other two highways on a course to reach the cloverleaf as well.
Looks to be a good fight, thought Zeke. And survivors are going to have supplies to trade and will need good, strong booze.
The old codger shifted his stiff bones into a comfortable position to watch the show. A strong cough shook his body though. He ran his tongue around his mouth, shook his head and spit one of the few teeth he had left into his palm.
“Damn. At this rate I won’t have any left by the time I reach forty.”