"I mean, these uh, detention camps as you call them, these are camps for terrorists. Terrorists like camps. That's how they train. Lots of people like camps."
-President George W. Bush speaking to Wolf Blitzer; September 9th, 2008; 9:24 AM PST.
Chevy is standing in a shallow nook between two flimsy bunk beds. Mattresses and frameworks obscure him from the view of the security cameras mounted at intervals along the steel walls of the barracks. Needless to say, he wasn't able to sleep. Though he lay in his bunk for the few hours allotted and tried, the closest he came was a cold numbness that spread over his arms, made his nerves feel lapsed and uneven, all his limbs disconnected from one another. After some time, faces seem to come towards him out of the darkness, twisted into expressions laughin or screaming. Now Chevy's got heavy purple rings under his eyes, and everything looks faint and insubstantial. He's got his brand new orange jumpsuit unzipped down the front, is reaching in through it trying to rearrange something in his ass that's become incredibly uncomfortable.
"You got a drugstore up there, holmes?" This question is from Felix, Chevy's upper bunkmate, a skinny, weird-looking kid with a bic'd dome and a fuzzy little mustache.
"Nah," Chevy says, "just your momma's tongue."
Felix leans slyly over the edge of the bed. "That ain't funny, loc."
Chevy nods. "None of it's funny."
"Say that again!" bleats the old man who spent the night in a bed one-over and up. Chevy first exchanged words with him at the protest the night before. The old man had been wearing a long black trench coat and a black fedora over his wispy silver hair. He'd looked ageless and dangerous then, like William S. Burroughs or someone. Now, drowned in an oversized fluorescent jumpsuit marked PRISONER, he looks ancient and despondent. The old man, whose name is Saul, goes on talking to Chevy and Felix. "My father died fighting the Nazis so this kind of shit would never happen again...I got captured in the 'Nam so the Communists wouldn't take over this country and do it! And when I see what these assholes have done to this country...it makes my Goddamn blood boil!"
"Yo, holmes, think they got this shit wired for sound?" Felix asks Chevy.
"I don't give a Goddamn flying shit if they do!" Saul rumbles, raising his voice a notch. A few other people are gathering round old Saul now, mostly other oldsters with a little more historical perspective than the kids. One of them, a moon-faced, clean cut guy in his late thirties, Chevy saw the night before dressed in a clerical collar. A Catholic priest.
"Why do you think they're interning us now?" the priest asks the old man. "What's the point? Why not just arrest us like they normally would? Unless they're really worried about an infiltration of terrorists..."
"Pahhh!" Saul waves his hand derisively. "There ain't no terrorists...wanna understand it you gotta understand about power! About control! Power's no good unless you can use it! Well, they've had the power to shut their enemies up for a long time...scared to do it! They thought someone was gonna raise a fuss if they tried it! So they tested...took a few guys here...a few there...stuck 'em away in naval brigs! The ACLU cried foul...the Supreme Court let it slide...no one else said shit! Now they know they can get away with it 'cause they got everyone in the country scared shitless by what'll happen if they say boo! And I'll bet they're gonna pull something...nasty trick...out their sleeve real soon to distract people..."
"This is all part of their Born Again crusade against the Muslims, too," Chevy chimes in.
"That's a common misunderstanding," the Priest begins, but Saul cuts him off viciously.
"They aren't Christians...Born Agains and Pentecostals use the name of Jesus but they aren't Christian...The people who go to those churches think they're being Christian...they're told they're Christian...their leaders worship Satan...I've seen it myself! I bet you've never heard of Bohemian Grove!" Saul is cut short as loudspeakers in all four corners of the long echoing barracks erupt with a screeching of feedback.
"ATTENTION PRISONERS. YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES TO FORM UP BY BARRACKS IN THE YARD."
In the silence that follows there is the sound of a hundred zippers being zipped. Saul is distracted, looking around for something.
"Bohemian Grove?" Chevy asks him to his back.
"Later...I'll tell you...you'll get it!" Saul says over his shoulder, "At least you're asking the right questions!"
They follow the sea of orange prisoners out into the blindingly bright yard. Chevy thinks he has a pretty good idea of where this camp sits geographically, based on how they came in. There's a line of low limestone hills shaped like furry brown german shepherd paws along the horizon; those are the east, the foothills of the Sierra. All features further in the distance are obscured in the murky yellow smog that saturates this valley.
The San Joaquin Valley used to be a vast inland sea, Chevy remembers. Its outlet to the Ocean was through San Francisco Bay.
He's chock-full of useless information, all information being useless now.
The prisoners form up in ten rows, according to barracks. Men are on one side of the yard and women on the other; that's how they were separated out last night. First by sex and then, further, by who-knows-what arbitrary system. Chevy searches the womens' side for a flash of red hair, green eyes, any sign of Katie, but he finds nothing. The womens' faces across the yard all seem to settle lower and lower into the dust. That's what we look like too, he thinks.
They had been made to strip naked once they reached their barracks the night before, give all their clothing over to the guards, who labeled each hefty-bag-load and gave them each an orange jumpsuit with a bar code printed on the front of it.
Now Chevy can see that the women were all given red jumpsuits to differentiate them from the men. Black-clad guards tread through the heavy ochre dust on both sides of the yard, passing down each of the ten separate lines with hand-held bar code scanners, lasers darting out and licking the label on each prisoner's chest. In this way, all the prisoners are being accounted for in complete silence.
Saul is standing directly in front of Chevy. The oversized sleeves of the old man's jumpsuit flap over his blue-veined hands. "Mark of the Beast," Saul mutters as the guard scans him. The guard, a young, keen, aryan-looking commando in camo fatigues -- who probably just came back from Afghanistan -- looks at him sharply for a moment but quickly moves down the line, carrying out his duties with short and precise motions.
Further back, Chevy hears Felix pipe up as he's being scanned.
"Yo, bro, don't I get to make a phone call?"
"Yeah..." grumbles Saul in agreement.
"Yeah," grumble a dozen other people in the other lines.
The commando who is processing Felix grabs him roughly by the arm and drags him out of line.
"Hey, lemme go!" Felix shouts, trying, but not too strenuously, to get away. His eyes are wide and focused on the AK that the soldier has stuck between his ribs.
"Hands on your head," the soldier says.
Felix complies. "My cousin's in the army loc! My dad was, too!" Chevy can hear him babbling as he's led off across the yard.
In broad daylight, it's possible now to see where the awful stench is coming from, and they've all taken notice of it. Beyond the gate they entered last night, along both sides of the dirt road, fields of black and brown cattle stretch as far as the eye can see. The cattle are so densely packed together they can barely move. They stand nervously, knee-deep in their own excrement, awaiting slaughter.
There are ten long barracks buildings in the camp itself, baking flat, gray and ugly under the sun. The dormitories are arranged five on either side of the yard, oriented to what Chevy takes to be North and South. The one he slept in is the middle one on the southern side. Behind each barracks is an outdoor latrine. On the western side of the yard is the gate, and beyond that the fields of cattle stretching off into the mucky atmosphere of shit aerosolizing under the hot morning sun. On the eastern side, toward the hills, stands a cluster of various other buildings all within the barbed-wire perimeter. Two of them are quite large, made of white corrugated steel. They look like post-modern factory buildings of some kind. There's a long, low stucco building beside these that's probably the soldiers' barracks. Adjacent to and partially behind this sits the most bizarre feature of the camp, an old Victorian house, all gingerbread wooden siding done up in pink and blue, probably about a hundred years old; this is likely serving as the command post and officers' quarters. There are a couple of rusting feed-troughs nearby that. Behind the house and the big white factories there are other buildings, but you can't see what they are really or how far back it all goes. It is in this easterly direction that the guard marches Felix, who's peering back helplessly over his shoulder as he's hustled along.
The entire assemblage of prisoners has been watching in silence, still being scanned by the busy soldiers, as Felix and the guard turn the corner and disappear behind the second big white building.
No one says a fucking word.
So much for calling Ford, Chevy thinks. You can't even talk to these guys.
Once they've all been scanned, the lines of men are taken into the nearer of the white buildings, while the lines of women are herded into the other.
He was sure it was going to be a slaughterhouse, what with all the cattle around and the horrible smell. But then, would they really hand all these guys knives and expect them to get down to work?
It's clean and well-lit inside the factory building. Rows and rows of long steel tables gleam under bare fluorescent bulbs. Enormous spools of wire and fabric lean against the walls all around.
The prisoners are all made to take positions at the tables. Chevy stands next to Saul, at a table about two-thirds of the way from the entrance.
An officer in black leaps up on one of the central tables and begins explaining to them what they are to do. They are going to be making camouflage nets. He assigns a dozen of prisoners by number to snip lengths of wire and cloth and distribute them to the assembly tables. For the benefit of the other prisoners, he gives a simple demonstration of how the wire is to be woven and the cloth tied onto it. It is all quite simple, boring, and labor-intensive. Ideal work for prisoners.
Chevy peers around surreptitiously, but sees no sign of Felix.
The black-clad lieutenant has finished explaining about the nets, but he's still standing on the table. He looks steadily around the room with a certain gleam in his blue-gray eyes, pausing to stress the momentous importance of the great, patriotic message he's abouut to deliver.
"I know," he begins, and for a moment he pauses and Chevy thinks the lieutenant might just choke up with tears or something, "I know that some of you love this country. Because America is the most free, the most...good...best Goddamn country in the world. So I'm going to offer you a way out of here. A way to prove that you've got what it takes to be a real American. If you choose, you may enlist immediately in the US Armed Forces and completely redeem yourselves. Save yourselves! This is your only hope! You may speak with any of the guards when you're ready to do this."
With that, the lieutenant jumps down from the table and strides swiftly toward the door. Several prisoners call out to him and actually leave their tables to follow as he goes, already prepared to take the offer.
Cannon fodder, Chevy thinks. Die here or die over there -- what a choice.
Beside him, Saul yells "I'm a fucking veteran you snotty piece of shit!"
But the officer doesn't seem to hear him.
"It's bullshit anyway," the old man grumbles. "They did the same to the Japanese in World War II...said you'll get out of the camps if you enlist...know what the Japs said? The Nissei? They said FUCK YOU!" he shouts this at the lieutenant's back "...said give us back our constitutional rights...then we'll consider it!"
"Shut up," yells a soldier who's come from behind them, and with the butt of his rifle sends old Saul sprawling across the stainless steel tabletop.
The room is dead silent; a thousand faces looks away. Momentarily, the prisoners begin moving industriously, collecting spools of cloth and wire. Chevy leans imperceptibly closer to Saul, then puts a hand on his shoulder, helping to steady him as he stands.
Chevy wants to scream at the bastard who hit him, wants to attack the fucker with bare hands, rip the guy's windpipe out with his teeth. But for the first time in his life he understands why Eliott, why all of them, didn't fight back. Why they couldn't fight back. Because it's hard to be the first one to die when you're pretty sure all the other prisoners will just look away from your torn-up corpse and go back to work, and your death won't start a revolution, and you won't have done any good for anyone, except maybe for yourself.
So for the moment Chevy bites his tongue and starts helping to draw the wires out across the table, twisting and pulling along with the rest of the cattle. He feels if he just had a cigarette he'd be ready for it, ready to die in a hail of bullets. He'd murder for a cigarette right now. But slowly the monotony of the work sucks him in and his thoughts become blunted, quieted, almost serene.