The Feds finally picked me up after my third night alone in the desert. I was dehydrated, frozen and sunburnt, but I’ll never forget the sight of headlights driving toward me across the barren.
The last night I remember was the last time I saw agent Steinway alive. It was our fifth week undercover within the Ambrosia Convoy, a mobile cult of Bedouin tents, VW minibuses, motorcycles, and a school bus with blacked out windows. We posed as vagrants from California, with new names and backstories crafted for us by Bureau writers. Everybody from the ATF to the FBI wanted samples of the ambrosia, a census of the cultists, and anything on their messiah, Dove Howard.
Steinway and I spent two months living together to get into character before intercepting the cult. On that final night the other initiates were gossiping about who among us Dove would offer a taste of ambrosia to first. Steinway and I left our group’s tent to get water, but as we were coming back a higher member tapped me on the shoulder and said I was ready. Steinway smiled and said how lucky I was (we had to maintain our cover.)
I was brought to the largest tent, surrounded by bonfires where people frolicked naked, drunk on ambrosia, and from inside the tent their silhouettes danced up the canvas. Gentle hands guided me to sit on a woven mat, and from the shadows spoke an intelligent northern voice, “‘One life. One goal.’ That is our philosophy … FBI agent Flores.”
I hadn’t heard my real name in nearly four months, and I was honestly confused until my realization threw aside the method acting. I needed to alert agent Steinway, but whatever I said next wasn’t enough to dissuade Dove.
“I’ll be brief Mr. Flores,” Dove said, sitting on the mat in front of me. “Heaven to its most distilled grace is when the mind lives free of its body, and you don’t have to be ‘successful,’ deal with the troubles of others, or earn money … only be happy.
“Perception and rapture are simply chemical illusions, and the great pursuit of happiness is to unlock those chemicals which are already inside of you. Men toil, pursue, yet what they search for I can unlock. There is no mountain they need to climb. People have only one life to live, and I want them to be happy.” Then Dove plucked from the sand a tiny crystal bottle with a gulp of honey-colored liquid inside and passed it to me.
I cleared my throat. “This is only a drug,” I said. “This … you sell it, collect profits, and live it up in the real world after you’ve dumped all these losers in your test-tube ‘Heaven.’”
Dove touched his cheek and smiled merrily. “Ryan…” he said, “I assure you, I am a priest who practices my faith,” and Dove produced a second crystal bottle and took a drink.