We wake up at six am the next day and get started. The continental breakfast is about what I expected, all the baked goods are a little stale, but edible. We go out to the rental car and I decide if we have to go off roading this is not the car to do it in. It is not exactly a sporty vehicle. I slip in the passenger seat and MJ drives out of the lot.
"Let me know when you want me to drive." It's going to be about a two hour drive. The area we are headed towards is eleven miles south of the Colorado boarder.
"Why didn't y'all book a closer hotel?" MJ enquires, "could have stayed in Espanola or Carson or something."
"We don't know if they're watching the nearby towns or anything. We're still not really sure how organized this group is." I respond.
"Hmpf," MJ snorts, "Should be plenty of tourists there too, aren't we tourists? They can't watch everybody. Besides I doubt somehow this group cares about anyone more than five miles away."
"In case you hadn't noticed at breakfast this morning, there are not plenty of tourists right now. I won't be surprised if they don't have any surveillance in the area, but it's a chance I'd rather not take." I expect his grumbling to continue for a while, MJ is not a morning person. Instead he huffs himself into silence and we leave town on highway 285, continuing on in silence. Well almost, we stop for coffee at chain with a drive through first, than we continue on in silence.
The scrub brush and pine trees of the high desert flicks past the window along with ancient sandstone formations. We pass through one edge of the Carson National Forest and pull off at the ranger station to buy an entrance pass for the week. Upon inquiry we learn that most of campsites have open spaces and there's no additional back packing pass we just have to confirm our route with the ranger station and book the campsites. This perks up MJ a bit, and makes me wonder if he does not just want to go camping for fun. He can do that on his own after I leave.
We continue up the highway and slow down after we spot the turn off for the San Antonio Mountain outlook. A few miles up the road, a sign advertises the unincorporated township of Nueva Paz another sign suggests it boasts a gas station. We make a right off the highway onto a similar road and continue off for a half mile or so before we sight a rundown looking gas station, a rundown looking dinner, and a couple of trailer homes. The site is even less impressive than I imagined it, but conspicuous in that it is likely the only human habitation for twenty miles. The road travels downhill to the town, but a gently rising slope cuts off our view past the trailers.
"This can't be right," MJ frowns, "There's no way 250 people much less vampires live here."
"All the tracking points to here and they reference it in their own emails, maybe there's more underground, or some ranches or something nearby were they actually live." I suggest.
MJ scowls some more and stiffens, he doesn't like the situation and neither do I. Maybe this is a trap, or maybe the vampires we are looking for are a thousand miles away from here, who knows. We pull up in front of the gas station. There's one pump for regular and one pump for diesel, we go to the regular.
"I'll check inside," I motion towards the station. MJ nods and searches the back of the car for the gas cap to keep up appearances, he curses when he realizes he pulled up to the pump the wrong way and gets back in the car to turn around.
The door to the station is propped open, but the lights are off. "Hello, anybody home." I call in. The place is small enough I can see no one is. There are two coolers on the back wall and a couple of stands with chips and candy, a cash register and cigarettes behind the counter. "Okay" I say to the air. A window next to the door and one behind the cash register make the place pretty well illuminated despite the grim on the windows. I search the place a little more and notice the coolers are still on suggesting electricity and a small trap door is next to one of them in the back corner, suggesting a basement. The ground is less dusty, but grimier near the door and it has a well-used look to it.
A small noise catches my attention and I peer through the window behind the counter in time to see the door on the nearest trailer home slam shut and a man dressed in blue jeans, boots, and a baseball cap stomp towards us. He smiles at MJ, who has righted the car, and waves. I return to the door and wave back.
When he gets close enough he calls out to greet me in Spanish. I do not know if MJ speaks Spanish and have no wish to leave him out of the conversation so I respond in English. The man switches to mildly accented English.
"We're looking to get gas," I motion to MJ who has begun pumping, "But I think we're lost too, can you give us some directions."
"Sure," The man says as he walks past me into the store, flicks on the lights and boots up the cash register.
"We were going to the San Antonio Mountain today, did we miss it?" I ask as I pull a map of the park from my pocket.
"Sure did, it's about two miles back the way you came on the right." He replies and I wonder if he knows which way we came or just guesses.
"While we're up here though, we planned to do a couple of the hikes nearby, can you suggest a few?" I start pointing to some of the close by points on the map.
"Ah, no I wouldn't suggest that one or that one either." The man frowns over my ideas, "The ones by the south side of the park are really the better ones. And it gets real cold up here in the evenings this time of year; you don't want to get caught in this area at night."
I nod, before I give the man another question, MJ saunters in, "How do you keep this place open?" he blurts before passing the man a credit card.
The man glances at the computerized cash register, which has not booted up yet, "Ah, the locals mostly, everybody needs gas. Do you have cash by chance?"
"Nah, we'll wait a minute," MJ dismisses the question, "What locals? The place looks abandoned."
A more critically study of the town tells me it is abandoned, the dinner is clearly not open for business and none of the trailer homes look lived in. The roof on the one next to the mans might be fallen in and gives the impression of having a missing wall, the windows and door let much more light pass through than any of the other mobile homes.
"Eh you know, ranchers and stuff," the man waves his hand at the world around us and runs the credit card, but glares at the computer when it does not run.
"Do you get a lot of people from the park?" MJ asks.
"No. Like I was telling your friend, all the good hiking is down on the south end. Nobody comes up here much." The man answered, not realizing he had brought us back to the question of how the place stayed open.
"Seems like the electric bill would be more than what you make." I observe.
"Solar panels, on the other side of the hill." He chimes, finally convincing the register to take the credit card.
"That answers it, getting a piece of the alternative energy craze, I see now." MJ responds, pacifying the man. I check my watch by pressing a button on the side that switches it into the paranormal energy detection mode. This mode is a simple dial that has colors from black to red around the outside, right now the needle is pointing to red indicating the highest level of paranormal activity. There's vampire's beneath my feet alright, I think.
"We better get moving," I move to exclude the man from the conversation, "if we want to see the mountain and then head down here to hike." I tap the map on down near Carson were the man claimed the better hikes are. "There is a five mile hike down there that looked good, I thought we would do it tomorrow, but today might be better."
"Sounds like a plan," MJ responds as he signs the gas receipt.
"Thanks," I say to the man as I turn to leave, I notice the man perk up and smile a bit for the first time since I started asking questions about the area.
"Yeah, thanks for the info." MJ adds.
"No problem at all, I'm sure you'll be happier down by the south end, much more to do and see down their anyway." The man cheeps as we return to our car.
As we are getting in he shuts off the power to the convenience store and turns to go back inside the mobile home. I check my watch again and flash it over to MJ who glances at it and nods. He fires up the engine and we pull away from the gas pump, the man walks back across to the trailer home.
"Oh I forgot to close the gas lid," MJ mutters as he checks his mirrors, he climbs back out of the car. I watch the man return to the mobile home, as MJ returns, I notice shadow movement beneath the mobile home. It looks to me like a trap door being opened and a man retreating into the depths, MJ follows my eyes before pulling out of the gas station.
"This place is interesting," he says after a moment.
"Yeah tell me about it," I answer, I glance down at my watch again, than out the window in time to see the sun glint off a bit of metal in the desert. Possibly a camera or another trap door. Shortly after we pass it the dial on my watch begins traveling into the orange region and downward.
"Looks like it's all underground," I say when we return to the main highway and turn off to the left, another glint from the ground, camera most likely.
"And they send one guy up when they know someone's coming they must have cameras on the gas station at least." MJ adds.
"Out here to I think."
He nods, "how far out is there observation radius?"
"No idea, so what now?" I wonder.
"We look at the mountain and come up with another plan I suppose." MJ puts on his thinking face and I begin going over the situation in my own head.
We get to the look out, and walk around before resting up on the hood of the car to continue our conversation.
"I think it's fair to say they have camera's on the surrounding area, but probably not too far away." MJ says.
"Agreed," I respond, "an early warning system most likely. I'm thinking I'll email Butch tonight and try and get more information out of him. There's got to be some digital trace of their activities, the camera's are probably accessible to him anyway, he's inside their network at some level to have the information he's already given us."
"Won't you need something to trade him?"
"I'll tell him the layout I've seen so far, maybe that will be worth something. I wonder how they did it?" I add the last enigmatic question without thinking.
"Did what?" MJ asks.
"Built it all. Out here." I motion out to the desert in front of me, "Whatever they've got underground took building supplies that had to come from somewhere, and somewhere none to close at that. Not to mention whatever servers and networking they have."
MJ shrugs back at me with confusion on his face, "I seem to remember Butch has something similar going on. He managed it and he's just one dude that can't even show his face during normal business hours."
"Yeah, but according to the ITG files on him it's taken him over 100 years to develop that property, and he's still building stuff. This group is only supposed to go back a year and a half, both based on our files and Butch's." I retort, "Who bought all this stuff and moved it out here so quickly? This has to be a part of a larger operation."
MJ turns to look at the mountain, it's not quite noon yet and still cool at this elevation, but strangely warm in the sun. After a few minutes he continues the conversation, "You think we've bit off more than we can chew here?"
I look side long at him, "Yep, but I doubt that will stop us."
He grins back at me, but it fades, "Where did this lot come from?"
"No idea, I've never met a group half so large or so organized before and what are they eating too? Just the genetically enhanced blood? Seems like rich fair to be feeding all of them." I add.
"I don't want to end up chasing vampires the rest of my life." MJ sighs.
"Oh it wouldn't be so bad would it? It would give you purpose anyway." I say lightly.
MJ sticks me with a hard look before turning away, "It gives you purpose, but it might just make life more miserable for me."