Jack Daniel's: The Tradition Survives
Much blood has been spilled to preserve the smooth-sipping Tennessee whiskey you've enjoyed through good times and bad. Governments might rise and fall, but the recipe for your favorite adult beverage has remained unchanged even when the world as we know it has been through the wringer. You can count on our seasoned and indestructible distillers to continue bringing you the finest whiskey in what's left of the known world.
A mere three months after the Fall, humanity quickly discovered it did not want to endure the end of all civilization sober, so raiding parties at the Jack Daniel's distillery were frequent and disruptive. The owners soon gathered the remaining distillery employees into a fighting militia known as the Jack Squad. With the help of some intrepid local NRA enthusiasts, Fort Lynchburg was built and defended. The fort almost fell to a band of wild Civil War reenactors who had replaced their muzzle-loaders with army-surplus M1 rifles. At last, General Ira "Stonewall" Weinstein surrendered his sword before being hung from a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign, where his bones still hang today as a reminder for those who'd fuck with the producers of the finest, smoothest liquor ever made by true Americans.
So challenges may come and go, but Jack Daniel's pledges to keep using only the best, purest ingredients available. Unlike those responsible for the short-lived resurgence of Sam Adams beer, Jack Daniel's promises to use pure spring water, free of radioactive or other toxic materials.
So whether you're fleeing violent rape gangs, remembering those lost loved ones, or daydreaming of a future where wild dogs no longer roam the streets, we hope you'll keep making Jack Daniel's your preferred beverage.
"Pour me another one."
"Right." Bill grabbed the bottle, splashed more Jack into each glass. "I have to admit, things have been interesting since I hooked up with you."
"'May you live in interesting times,'" Mortimer said. "That's an ancient Chinese curse."
"Yeah, I guess. Some of it's been a curse," Bill admitted. "Like almost getting eaten and losing my guns and my hat. Stuff like that. But a lot of it's good too. I like drinking well and eating well and sleeping indoors with flush toilets and electricity. I like Joey's. But it's expensive."
"I'm sort of painfully aware that you've been floating me this whole time, and I don't like feeling that I'm not contributing my fair share."
"Don't forget you saved my life," Mortimer said. "That's your fair share and then some. When you found me I was on a leash."
"Yeah, but you saved my life too," Bill reminded him. "I expect a couple of fellows pal around long enough they'll save each other pretty regular. No, I need to pull my weight...although I sure as hell won't say no to that steak when it arrives."
Mortimer grinned. "Okay, so starting right after you finish your steak, what do you propose?"
"You've got the capital and I have the knowledge," Bill said. "I'm a hell of a good shot when I have my pistols, and I know my way around the country. You sold that stuff to the Spring City Joey's store for a bundle, and you're sitting on a pile of cash. But even so much money will run out eventually. You're going to need to figure some way to earn a living, and I'm tired of not always knowing where my next meal's coming from. I have a few ideas where we might be able to make a good haul. You outfit us for the trip, and I'll lead the way. We split fifty-fifty."
"What kind of haul?"
"Fair question." Bill tossed back the rest of his Jack and eyed the bottle, which they were consuming at a surprising rate. "What do people want? Guns, food, booze, clothing, a safe place to live."
"But things are getting better, and I think if we put our heads together we can figure out the next level of things people will need."
Mortimer slurped Jack Daniel's. "Next level?"
"Like...hell, I don't know. Like if everyone is dying for a Pepsi Cola and willing to pay big money for a Pepsi Cola, and then they finally start getting Pepsi Cola on a regular basis, then the next thing is they want ice for their Pepsi Cola."
Mortimer nodded. "I see. So we corner the market on ice. Or whatever the next thing is."
"Exactly. Like I said, I might have a few ideas, but-"
"Give me that goddamn bottle!" Sheila's sudden appearance at the table startled Mortimer. She grabbed the Jack Daniel's bottle, upended it into her mouth. She coughed, sputtered. It splashed down her chin.
"Don't waste it," Bill said.
"Fuck off." She coughed, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then took another drink. She winced but kept it down this time.
"You want to sit down?" Mortimer asked.
Mortimer flagged down a busboy, who brought another chair for Sheila.
"They don't want me," Sheila said. "Oh, they were sort of polite about it, I guess. They said they needed more kitchen help, or I could get on the list to ship out to one of the new Joey locations."
"Well, I can't say I'm surprised," Bill said. "This place must get women from all over looking for work." He gestured to the trapeze girls. "And they're all incredibly hot too."
Mortimer frowned. "Could you be a little more sensitive, please?"
Sheila sighed. "No, he's right. That's more or less what they told me. Shit, now what am I going to do?"
Mortimer felt suddenly, crushingly sorry for the girl. She had been so confident, and now it had all been so easily taken away. Maybe it was the booze sneaking up on him. He could get sloppy and sentimental sometimes. He could smell her sitting there next to him. Not so bad, not really, but like campfire smoke and road sweat. She hadn't even had a chance to clean up.
"You can eat at least," he said. "And maybe another drink?"
She nodded, wiped at her eyes and looked embarrassed. She cleared her throat. "Sure. Okay. But not this stuff." She meant the Jack Daniel's. "It's making me ill."
Mortimer called the waitress over and ordered three draft beers and another bottle of Jack for the boys. "Did you ask about Anne?"
"Uh..." The waitress wouldn't meet his eyes. "No. Not yet."
Mortimer sensed some kind of hesitation he didn't understand. He was getting too drunk, maybe. The beer arrived with the steak. They all fell to eating like condemned prisoners. The steak in his mouth tasted like salt-and-garlic heaven. The meat so soft, as if the cow had been bludgeoned to death before grilling.
Mortimer felt pleasantly stuffed, sipped beer. The waitress cleared away the dishes just as the show started, spotlights washing the stage in hot-pink light, the curtain going up as four women took the stage, waving to the audience amid scorching applause.
Mortimer raised an eyebrow at Bill.
"Beats me," he said.
"Wait," said Sheila. "These are the Glam Van Dammes. I heard about them in Cleveland."
The girl band picked up their instruments. A blonde in black leather on guitar and a short, striking Asian woman on bass. The bass player really seemed to be working the Asian angle, her hair in a tight bun pinned with chopsticks. She wore a Chinese dress with a floral print and a high collar. The combat boots seemed out of place but worked because they were out of place. The drummer was a black girl with a bright red buzz cut and the athletic build of a beach volleyball player. She wore a dark green tank top, cutoff denim shorts and high-top sneakers. She had a big gold hoop in her nose and way too much makeup.
The singer was something else. A powder-blue prom dress coming off the shoulder, platinum hair in little-girl pigtails. Barefoot. She snapped her fingers four times quickly and shouted into the microphone, "One two three four!"
The band jerked into motion, and the singer belted out R.E.M.'s "It's The End of the World as We Know It," not quite screaming, but definitely toward the punk end of the spectrum.
Mortimer found himself tapping his foot. They were good.
They segued into a Bangles song. When they hit the chorus, the band suddenly stopped and the lead singer pointed at the audience. The entire place shook with hundreds of voices singing "Walk Like an Egyptian."
The evening began to get fuzzy around the edges. Mortimer kept sucking down Jack Daniel's, pausing occasionally to sip cold beer. The band played two more songs Mortimer didn't recognize and then this really crappy song called "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which made him so nostalgic for his youth in the eighties that his eyes went a little misty.
He began to drift but had wits enough to lay off the whiskey. The place felt hot and crowded suddenly, and there was a thin layer of sweat on his forehead. He leaned toward Sheila's ear to tell her he was going to the restroom, but the words came out, "Gonnagothereshroom."
She frowned. "What?"
He left the table, wormed his way through the crowd and found the men's room, relieved himself in a urinal. He ripped off a handful of paper towels, wiped his forehead and the back of his neck. He should probably drink some water. The steak lay in his gut like a poorly chewed medicine ball.
His waitress intercepted him on the way back to his table. "This way," she whispered in his ear.
She was already walking away. Mortimer followed. She turned down a hall away from the music and revelry. The Glam Van Dammes sounded muffled and distant. She opened a door, paused to motion him on.
Mortimer hesitated. "What's this about?"
"You want to see your wife, don't you?"
"Anne?" He went inside.
It was a large storage room, kitchen utensils and foodstuffs.
There was a clanging sound, and the darkness whirled around and around. His knees unlocked and the floor came up to catch him. Part of him wondered distantly what had struck the back of his head.
Some sort of skillet, he was pretty sure.
The light came through the barred window of the tiny cell. Cement walls and floor. Mortimer lay in the narrow, hard bunk, his head pounding some sort of rumba. His tongue tasted like a water buffalo had used it to wipe its ass. There was a hard crust around his eyes, which he wiped away with a thumb. Somebody stood over him.
Mortimer blinked. It was Lars.
"Good morning, sir." Lars poured a slim test tube of white powder into a glass of water. It bubbled and foamed. Lars handed it to Mortimer. "I anticipated your condition. This isn't quite the same formula as the old plop, plop, fizz, fizz we grew up with, but our pharmacists are quite talented."
Mortimer gulped it down. For a moment, it threatened to come back up, but Mortimer held it down and belched. The concoction took the edge off his torment. He was now merely miserable. "Where am I?"
"What's the charge?"
"I'm really not at liberty to discuss it," Lars said. "But if you can stand now, I need to escort you."
"That will be made evident."
Lars led him out of the small building, a cement bunker where Mortimer guessed they kept troublemakers out of the way of the better-behaved patrons. The bunker sat alone in the woods, a golf cart waiting for them on the narrow gravel path. In the backseat of the cart sat James, who'd let them through the gate the day before. He held his M16 across his lap and nodded a polite hello to Mortimer. Lars sat behind the wheel and gestured for Mortimer to sit next to him. They were soon zooming along the path, the gravel crunching beneath the tiny cart tires.
Shortly, they passed through an area Mortimer recognized, the sky bucket floating past overhead. Then Lars turned into new territory, a winding path along the edge of the mountain. It led them down the mountain in a gentle slope. Lars stopped the cart, frowned down into the valley, where a column of black smoke rose from distant buildings.
Mortimer shielded his eyes with his hand, craned his neck to see. "What's that?"
"Hard to say," Lars admitted. "We're trying to keep control of the region, but gangs still roam the city. Not so bad as a few years ago."
The trail ducked into the woods and came out again in a small clearing. A large L-shaped house sat on a level outcropping and commanded a breathtaking view of the valley. Three levels, constructed of wood and native stone, a wraparound porch and a balcony above. It looked old but well kept.
"That's Cravens House," Lars said.
"Made his money in cotton and iron before the Civil War. Or maybe after. I'm no historian."
Lars parked the cart. James climbed out of the backseat, stretched and lit a cigar.
"Where'd he get that?"
"We get tobacco shipped from Virginia," Lars explained. "Now I must ask you to go inside, sir."
"In there?" Mortimer jerked a thumb at Cravens House.
"Those are my instructions, sir. James and I are to wait here."
"Thanks for the ride."
He entered the house, stood in the foyer and waited, but nobody immediately appeared to tell him what to do. On either side of the doorway were Civil War uniforms in glass cases. Part of some tourist display, Mortimer assumed. There was a Confederate officer's uniform and one from the Union as well.
The house smelled like roses. A bench with coat pegs, polished wooden floors. Down the hall he saw some sort of sitting area, wide windows letting in the sunlight.
He cleared his throat. "Hello?"
He heard something move in one of the rooms down the hall, rustling papers, a chair sliding back, footsteps.
A head stuck out from one of the doorways. "Oh, you're here already. That was fast. Tate, right?"
"Right. I hope I'm not...uh...catching you at a bad time."
"Not at all, not at all. I just assumed you might need some more time to pull yourself together. Never mind. Come in, come in." He ushered Mortimer into the little office.
He was short but not significantly so, and Mortimer thought he might have been chubby before the Fall but was now sort of baggy skinned, although he had a bright complexion and seemed in very good health. Bald. Large blue eyes and full lips. Small ears. He motioned for Mortimer to have a seat.
The office was done in French country style, and Mortimer sat on the other side of a simple desk of white wood. The office was clean, well lit, and airy; a vase filled with fresh yellow flowers sat in the corner.
"How's your head?" the man asked.
Mortimer's hand automatically went to the back of his head. "Oh, uh, better, I guess."
"Nasty business, but it's turned out okay, I suppose."
"Can I get you anything?" the stranger asked. "It's a bit early for a good stiff drink, but we have tea and coffee. Some water?"
Mortimer sat forward. "Listen, no offense, but who the hell are you?"
"Oh, my, but of course, we haven't been introduced." The man offered his hand. "I'm Joey Armageddon."
Mortimer gulped as he took the hand. "Ah. Then, yes, I guess I'd better have some coffee."
A matronly woman in a blue pantsuit brought the coffee. It was excellent and strong.
"Thank you," Mortimer said. "This is wonderful."
"Don't get used to it." Joey Armageddon looked apologetic. "Coffee is almost nonexistent in the continental United States. Nothing's come up from South America for years, not through Florida anyway. I've ordered all coffee stores to my personal stash."
"I'll buy some from you," Mortimer said.
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I understand you have cigars," Mortimer said, changing the subject.
"Hand-rolled by Cubans."
"You have Cuban cigars?"
"No," Joey Armageddon said. "I have Cubans. Refugees. They hand-roll the tobacco we get from Virginia. You can get a box from the tobacconist near St. Elmo Station."
"Mr. Armageddon, am I under arrest?"
"That's what everyone thinks, but not really, no. Mr. Tate-may I call you Mortimer?"
"Mortimer, I think we're in a position to help one another."
"I can't think what I can possibly do for you." Mortimer had not imagined the seemingly simple man before him. He'd pictured a warlord on a throne of skulls with slave girls in dog collars. Not a polite gentleman in a modest, tasteful office. Still, this was Joey Armageddon. What favor could Mortimer Tate do for a man like that?
"You'd be surprised," said Armageddon. "What is it you think I do here, Mortimer? Just run a fancy saloon? Humor me."
"More than one saloon," Mortimer said. "And more than just a saloon. A store. An eatery." He scratched his chin, thought about it. "But more than that too. A rallying point. A place everyone knows."
"Good," said Armageddon. "Very good. You're a thinking man. I like that."
"Thanks. I went to college."
"Stay with me while I elaborate. I hope you'll see that we're doing some important work here."
Mortimer sipped more coffee, nodded.
Armageddon put a serious look on his face. "We are doing nothing less than rebuilding civilization. I know that sounds high and mighty, but it really is just that simple. In the dark ages, the Catholic Church was the single institution to stand against illiteracy and barbarism. One institution, preserving language and knowledge. Well, this is America, Mortimer, and there are too many different churches with too many different truths. It would have to be a different institution this time. It would have to be us."
Naked ladies and hooch. Sure. Mortimer said nothing.
Armageddon chuckled. "I can read your mind. I know how it sounds, and I know what you're thinking. But have a look at the big map, and I think I can convince you."
Armageddon stood, pulled down the blind covering the window behind him. It turned out to be a map of the southeastern United States, pink flags stuck in different cities across the surface.
"Each of these flags is a Joey Armageddon's Sassy A-Go-Go. Nashville, Louisville, Oxford, Wilmington, twenty-one locations in all. Not all are doing well. I can't deny it. The lack of leadership in some of the franchises has set us back. You probably remember what it was like in Cleveland."
"You know I've been through Cleveland?"
Armageddon nodded. "Shelby made it out. We've been keeping track of your progress, Mortimer, and we know your situation. Part of the reason we think you can help us. But more about that later."
He turned back to the map. "You saw the village when you came in."