"Listen to me. Listen -- you mustn't do this. You mustn't -- I have constitutional rights as an American citizen."
-Talk show host Bill Maher, at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California; Last words before his execution; September 10th, 2008; 10:59 PM PST.
It's late afternoon when they first reach the stadium. Chaz and Hazel strip off all their metal to pass through the magnetometers and file slowly in along with the herd. They cross beneath the ironwork of the concourse through a narrow gauntlet of soldiers who keep them filing past the locker rooms and offices. As they climb the tunnel and emerge onto the field, an awesome sight opens up before them.
At the far open end of the horseshoe-shaped stadium, half a dozen tanks and an accompanying regiment of soldiers have set up their encampments, guns pointing inward. Beneath the vacant stands, the field overflows with bare bodies, people strewn haphazardly all over the ground, half-dead from the heat. A few blue tarpaulins had been set up for shade here and there but it's so packed under them it's not even worth trying. Mercifully, the sun is soon to set over the lip of the stadium.
There seems to be very little organization once they've actually gotten inside. Soon as they're on the grass, Chaz spots an elegant lady in a black evening dress, long silver streaks in her hair, who looks completely out of place among the filthy, choking heaps of lobster-red flesh lying around her. She's standing and staring into space, totally still, tears in her eyes.
Chaz approaches her slowly. "Excuse me," he says, "sorry -- do you know where they're giving the vaccinations?"
her head to look at him. In a voice rasped with grief she says,
"Do you know where my daughter is?"
"Ain't no vaccinations," says a skinny older man who's lying on the grass nearby. You can see gray chest hair swirling over the top of his mesh tank-top. He scratches his neck with tobacco-stained fingernails. "They gotchyaz."
"What?" is all Chaz can say.
"They says they ain't givin' no vaccinations 'til everybody's here."
"Once everyone gets here won't they all get sick from each other?" Hazel wonders aloud.
"Suppose that's the idea," says the man.
"What's the idea?" Chaz is alarmed.
"Killin' us off." The man stares dreamily at the flat purple sky as it deepens in hue.
"Come on," Chaz says, grabbing Hazel's hand and leading her on.
They spend the better part of the next hour going from one encampment to another, one blocked exit to the next, tracking back and forth across the field, but nowhere do they find doctors giving vaccinations and no one can give them a straight answer. As night falls, the giant floodlights come on, washing all the sweating prisoners in an ethereal blue. Chaz and Hazel lay down side by side in the cool grass, at first painful as it scrapes their burnt shoulders. A numbness comes quickly and overtakes their bodies and minds.
It may be the first gunshot that brings Chaz awake -- maybe it has been going on for awhile. There's a freaky silence all over the field; a single scream, a woman's, rises in pathetic terror from the far end of the stadium where the tanks are parked. There is another shot and the scream ends abruptly. Chaz closes his eyes tightly, pretending to be asleep or dead. He hopes Hazel didn't hear that. She's shaking him by the shoulder. She heard it, she's awake.
He opens his eyes, shimmering black pools reflecting the otherworldly light, and raises a solitary finger to his lips. His eyes are locked into Hazel's; she is leaning over his face. They are trying not to think of anything else.
Above them, blinking in and out of silhouette in Chaz's field of vision, a line of male prisoners goes gliding silently by. There are five of them, walking in a line without soldiers accompanying them. It seems from their movements that they know each other. As the light catches each of them in succession, Chaz sees a network of criss-crossing gashes over their bare backs, blood trickling to leave fine patterns of dark red lace behind their footsteps in the grass.
He remains perfectly frozen. He was wrong; there was a soldier behind the men. Now the soldier stops. He's a husky, hairy looking guy with a vicious smirk on his face. The dark shape of his gun foreshortens toward Chaz's eyes.
"You, girl," the soldier indicates Hazel, leaving the gun pointed at Chaz, "you're wanted for questioning."
Hazel is scared -- Chaz can feel the shivering in her arms -- she just keeps staring at Chaz with her eyes opening wider and wider as it comes clear to her that she is the object of discussion. Then the rifle is cocked with a sharp thwack-thwack. The soldier places the muzzle against Chaz's forehead.
"Now," he says.
Hazel rises to her feet. The soldier grabs her brusquely by the arm and begins leading her back where the beaten-up prisoners came from, toward the entrance to the offices under the stadium.
Chaz, who for an instant has remained stapled to the ground, numb with shock and fear, now stands on pure instinct with a single silent motion, facing the back of the soldier who's got Hazel. His teeth are clenched together harder than they've ever been before. He sees the sadly nodding face of his mother in the back of his mind, feels nerves twitch down his spine as his fingertips come alive in a dementia of wrathful, furious adrenaline that burns and spreads like meth through his veins, all the gall and rage of the day's torment goes nuclear as he prepares for carnage. He readies himself to go down in a totally hellacious bloodbath.
The soldier's gotten about twenty feet away when Chaz turns himself into a human missile. Instantly, gunshots erupt from the far end of the field. They're shooting at me, he thinks, but he's no longer in control of his own velocity, it's taken over; he cuts through the air feeling like God on rollerskates, a ninja blade aimed at the brainpan of this fat son of a bitch.
For just an instant the stadium goes completely dark as the main lights are switched off. Then the momentary blackness is flooded by a series of nite-suns down at field level, shining from behind the tanks.
The soldier, confused by the increasingly rapid gunshots and the sudden change of light, slackens his grip on Hazel's arm and half-turns around to see what's going on. What he can see is a dark turmoil of prisoners back there who look like they've tried to storm the line of tanks all together. The guardsmen are firing at them from behind the nite-suns. There's a split second wherein the bulbous soldier tries to decide whether to let this girl go, plunge into the crowd and start shooting people, or whether to take her under the stadium and have some fun with her while his comrades are otherwise occupied.
It's in the very instant he's pondering this dilemma that he sees from the corner of his eye a tall young man cannonballing towards him with the inertia of an avalanche.
The big soldier doesn't have time to react. In a heartbeat Chaz has tackled him to the ground, one hand already on the rifle; they struggle with the gun for a brief instant but Chaz has all the leverage; he rips the AK from the soldier's hand, aims it without thinking between the guy's heavy black eyebrows, and blows the mellonhead wide open on the grass.
Hazel is standing there in amazement. She never thought she'd marry such a hunk. A strange, tender excitement swells in her, settles with a warm tingle between her thighs as she watches Chaz sitting on the soldier's chest, heaving for air, the gun cradled loosely in one arm. The sweat glitters off his forehead in the firelight.
Everyone on the turf is up and running around now. There are several thousand prisoners stuck on the front line at the far end of the field, desperately trying to thrash their way back against easily three times their number who are storming in the opposite direction, hoping to bust through the wall of defenses in the endzone and escape. All the troops have amassed down there to stop the mob, leaving the distant ten yard line where Chaz is kneeling over the dead soldier dark and deserted. There are still several guards posted at the tunnel entrance behind this endzone, but their view of Chaz is blocked by a series of lean-to tarps running up the center of the field.
Rapidly now, and once again with little thought, Chaz commences to get naked. Seeing what he's up to, Hazel begins half-unbuttoning, half-ripping the fatigues off the dead soldier until the corpse is laying there in its yellow-stained skivvies, pants around the fat hairy ankles. All of this takes about fifteen seconds. Hazel gives a massive heave and yanks the pants free of the boots, falling back on her ass in a single swift motion.
The gunfire at the other end of the field is still intensifying, climaxing into a solid roaring wall of death. Several tarps have been set on fire around the fifty yard line, sending up plumes of noxious green smoke that obscure the battlefield. Wave after wave of half-naked bodies are being raked by the bullets even as they're trampled and crushed under the colliding stampedes.
To Chaz's eyes the scene looks a little like the mosh pit at a Tool concert being sucked into a giant lawnmower.
The dead man's uniform is there, waiting, inert. Chaz jumps into it in two quick moves; finds it's a little baggy for his taste. Between that and the brohawk he doesn't look much like a soldier, but from a distance and with all the confusion he can probably pass. He looks at Hazel for an instant, the first time he's stopped to see her really; with her eyes she tells him that she's okay.
With that silent look he takes her arm, gently but with an imitation of force, holding the gun at an angle slightly away from her narrow frame, and starts walking her toward the dark mouth of the tunnel at the near end of the field.