Having never traveled farther west than Wichita, an unexpected work opportunity to jet off to Las Vegas jolts into overdrive the imagination of a young man from Kansas. He is deep in sleep, carefully buckled in while reclining in his comfortable window seat in row number one within the crowded first-class section. The smooth, soothing rush of the cool, pressurized air inside the jet masks his awareness of his forward speed and his current altitude at roughly seven miles up in the sky.
As his jet touches down on the runway, he wonders in anticipation what may be awaiting him in the desert playground. The first few seconds as he walks from the aircraft that brought him to the Las Vegas airport, he is immersed in a literal sensory overload designed to force all arriving visitors to forget where they just came from. First, there is the unforgettable ringing of airport terminal slot machine chimes announcing unexpected winners who will start their stay in Vegas with a few extra hundred bucks in their pocket. Then, large overhead video screens in the baggage claim section shine down brilliantly colorful images that seem almost dreamlike.
However, what catches his attention is a video pitching a side-trip from Las Vegas to Amargosa Valley. He only recently learned of a ranch situated in that western edge of Nevada about a hundred miles from Las Vegas where his work assignment awaits. The young man spins around quickly as he stands next to baggage claim carousel number 22 because he cannot shake the eerie sensation of someone standing too close behind him. His surprised gaze comes into instant, direct alignment with the squinting blue eyes of guy about his same age. He immediately notices the blue-eyed guy has a handsome, chiseled face and he is dressed all in black in an apparent paramilitary-style uniform complete with thick black boots.
“Didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Josh Lorne. From the ranch at Amargosa Valley,” says the guy with blue eyes. “Supposed to pick up a writer flying in from Kansas.”
The young man in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a tight, bright orange t-shirt replies, “Great. I was told someone would meet me when I got here. I’m Lex—Alexander Sarkis, from Wichita.” Lex Sarkis watches the good-looking man clad all in black steps quickly away from the baggage claim area.
It is Thursday, the 11th day of October 2012, which will be remembered for rare, severe thunderstorms lingering over the entire Las Vegas Valley. Declan Andreas, a rugged-looking young man of Mexican and Greek ancestry also is arriving at the airport not far behind Lex Sarkis.
Someone who is known simply by his nickname of “the rancher” approaches Dec Andreas at the baggage claim area. He stands very tall in his large brown work boots. His head is graced with a large white cowboy hat that allows just enough of his curly light brown hair to fall downward toward, but not quite reaching, his thick, muscular neck. Dec Andreas concludes that the rancher’s impressive upper body especially deserves to be uncovered and admired.
Dec Andreas is dressed as if he wants to pass as a tourist. But Dec Andreas is not here in Las Vegas to visit casinos or to spend money gambling. He is not here for winning or losing anything. He retrieves a small rolling suitcase inside the vast luggage claim area. Nobody will care that Dec Andreas is attired like a tourist. This is the arrival point at the Las Vegas airport where everyone starts off on equal footing looking like everyone else. Looks don’t matter at the start. But then, the winning and the losing in Vegas changes all perceptions.
The rancher’s new, white pickup truck heads north and east away from Las Vegas. The severe weather remains over the valley but in the opposite direction from where Route 95 is taking the rancher and his guest, Dec Andreas. Soon the rancher nudges Andreas so he will notice the battered and worn sign by the right side of the two-lane highway that reads, Amargosa Valley, Nevada.
Lex Sarkis is already at the ranch and has discovered he is in serious jeopardy. He is reclining on his back upon a large metal and plexiglass chair upon a grey metallic floor. He is bound to the chair at his wrists, elbows, and ankles by shiny black straps of an oddly translucent polymer. He stares at a tall, horizontal screen that occupies most the area directly in front of him in the darkened room where he is confined to the large reclining chair. On the screen he sees a man who looks authoritative. Lex Sarkis can only observe the man on the screen from his shoulders to the top of his head, but the man’s familiar all-black paramilitary garment demands full attention.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Sarkis,” the man on the screen says while showing no emotion whatsoever.
“Where am I? Why have you restrained me?”
“Excellent opening questions,” the man responds with a slight smile. “You are being held in protective custody at the ranch in Amargosa Valley. I sent someone to meet you at the airport and give you a ride here. Something went wrong.”
“Went wrong? Why am I being held against my will?” Lex Sarkis asks with faked confidence as he struggles to free himself from the chair.
“Let me introduce myself. I am Edward Primero. I run the organization that owns the ranch. You are my guest, Mr. Sarkis.”
Lex Sarkis continues his unsuccessful attempts to wriggle free from the chair that tightly holds him. His torso muscles stand out vividly through his tight, bright orange t-shirt. “You sure have a strange way of treating your guests.” He stops talking and struggling to focus his attention on a thin metallic device connected to a slender, coiled white tube slide up in the air from the right side of the chair. A long, silver needle pokes out from the thin metallic device. When the long, silver needle stops mere millimeters away from plunging into his crotch through his blue jeans.