"Thank you, Scott. Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush sure didn't let protesters get him down today! Governor Bush fearlessly continued what he calls his 'crusade for freedom' across the battleground state of Ohio! Happy Ohians turned out by the thousands to cheer him on and give him a warm buckeye welcome!"
-Chirpy CNN anchor-bimbo; September 9th, 2008; 12:30 PM PST.
"I know it's only the Ninth. I know that. You don't have to tell me that. I just -- I just don't see why we have to wait until tomorrow to do it. Can't we do it today?"
-President George W. Bush to Vice President Cheney; Meeting with the Joint Chiefs; September 9th, 2008; 12:46 PM EST.
Three ordinary Suits slouch down Sunset Boulevard, shadowless under an overcast sky. The taco stands of Echo Park recede behind them. Modish wine bars and specialty bookshops of Silverlake crop up. The hard gray sidewalk jars their footfalls, speckled with blackened gumdrops. The Suits' heads angle downward as they vainly try to preserve their delicate vampire skin tones against the UV rays. Shredded ties flutter over their shoulders in the blast of passing trucks.
The walk is mostly downhill now. At the house,
cold Miller High Lives -- yea, the Champagne of Beers await them.
They walk without speaking. The unhealthful LA air breezes in to cool
their naked loins through the long gashes torn in their black slacks.
Across their field of vision a formation of two dozen fighter planes shoot westward toward the coast, trailing a shattered wave of sound in their wake.
"Wonder what that bullshit's about," the slash-suited leader mumbles, staring at the ground again as he continues along. He can hear the boys chuckling behind him in sycophantic agreement. He squints against the glare.
A second and equally unfamiliar sound begins to overtake them from behind, the foreboding churn of massive diesel engines. Again the tall Suit stops in his tracks. He turns, posing perfectly to catch the wind in all his manifold slashes, and stares over the messy heads of his two pale and sunglassed counterparts.
The cars on Sunset have pulled to the sides of the road and wait with perfect patience. A long green cannon appears, emerges slowly from beyond the rise of the hill.
The slashpunks stand staring as the first tank rumbles into view, then the second and the third. The tanks are followed by a slow series of army-green trucks manned by camouflaged troops.
The tall Suit watches dismayed as the first few Bradleys roll past. He studies as their dun-colored treads twist end over end. He worries. He has never seen anything like this in LA before; even though he only came from Nebraska six months ago, he can't imagine it's normal. He considers asking his comrades what they think is going on. But to ask would be to lose respect. He's supposed to always know what's going on.
"Fucking bullshit," he shakes his head. His friends try to grin along with him. The tall slashpunk turns and keeps trudging westward, secure in the knowledge that his pals are right behind. Silently, he considers very carefully what he's just seen.
The phone rings twice, three times, lost in a caucophany of bleeps and beats. Chaz ignores it. Four times. Five times.
He looks down; sees who it is. A long black lock arcs from his matted brohawk to rest on the tip of his ski-sloped nose. Finally he picks up the phone.
"Yo!" he hollers over the din, "Chevy!" He throttles down a silver volume knob, catchety jungle snare riffs fading into a steady basso pop.
"What'sup," Chevy Clutchfoot drawls through the receiver.
"Just workin', man... What are you up to?"
"Going to the protest tonight in the park."
"Oh yeah? What park?" Chaz asks vaguely. He twists a dial on-screen to flange a certain set of notes as a half-finished commercial for running shoes loops in the background. Across the living-room-turned-office, Hazel sits at her vMac, laying out a brochure. She glances at Chaz with big brown eyes, half-interestedly. Her golden skin catches teal hilights from the monitor's glare. "The protest?" she wonders aloud. Chaz nods at her.
"Pacific Ocean Park," Chevy is saying, "It's gonna be the biggest yet." Traffic sounds in the background; he's somewhere on his way already.
"What time's that at?"
"Starts around 7," Chevy pitches, "probably go all night."
"Damn dude, wish I could go," Chaz sounds lacadaisical, "but I'm going with Nick to Fantasy Lei."
"You guys should both come. We can go to the strip club later."
"I'd be down, dude, I totally would...but Nick's giving me a ride, and I know he wants to get Lei'd real bad..."
"Come on, Charlie," Chevy tries to sound fatherly, realizing as he does that it ain't gonna work. "Come on, I'll give you a ride."
"Dude, I'm so down, but I told Nick I'd hang out. I'll ask him when he gets here, we'll give you a call."
"I know, man..."
"What are you afraid of? You know there's nothing worse than what's gonna happen if people don't fucking protest this shit."
"I know, man; I mean I also don't wanna get arrested, obviously, 'cause I never filled out my card."
"All the more reason," Chevy sounds almost angry. "You should be out there standing up for the people like me who are up for the fucking Teheran lottery."
"Dude," Chaz tries desperately to appease, "let me just call you when Nick gets here."
"Whatever," Chevy says in disgust. "Fuckin' whatever. Yeah, just call me."
"Chill, Clutchfoot. Chill. I'll talk to you soon."
By the time Chevy makes it past 11th Street in Santa Monica, the traffic on Wilshire is at a total grinding standstill. It looks like the police are turning people away at Lincoln. He creeps forward inch by inch, letting the black Camaro roll in under its own neutral weight. It draws itself gravitationally down toward the sea-cliffs.
Between the last white skyscraper at the terminus of the Boulevard and the silhouetted palms that mark the edge of the land he can see an enormous crowd of people. Many of them are holding candles and flashlights already lit up. Their signs and banners writhe together thirty deep all down the narrow strip of coastal parkspace. Chevy wonders why the organizers chose this place; tactically it seems like a disaster. The riot cops have formed a solid helmeted black line along Ocean Avenue to press the protesters back toward where the land drops off to Pacific Coast Highway, a hundred feet below. It's not hard to see how easily they can start arresting people here, if it should come to that. In the eight years under Bush and especially since the New York riots that marked the 2006 invasion of Iran, arrests have become more and more common at the protests.
Seeing now that there's no way to drive to where he wants to go, Chevy pulls a U-turn out of the traffic nightmare, into the wide-open eastbound lanes. He figures no one will fuck with his Youie. This is what they want him to do anyway, turn around; nothing to see here, folks. He glances in the rearview to make sure it's clear of cops, then hooks a quick right onto 11th and into the parking lot of a Koo Koo Roo Chicken. In the far corner there's an empty space marked "Reserved." He carefully backs into this, the last parking space in Santa Monica, wedged between an enormous Escalade and a low cinderblock wall. He angles the car as he parks such that the pointed fiberglass nose would smash the wall if someone tried to pull the car straight out of its spot. He leaves it in reverse and kills the engine, engages the parking break. Let's see those fuckers try and tow me outta here, he thinks. He grabs a baggy black nylon windbreaker off the bucket seats behind him and zips it up over a t-shirt which reads, "REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME." No sense in antagonizing any fuzz before he gets there; people can get arrested for wearing shirts like these.
Chevy locks the car, lowers his head of spiky black hair and starts walking westward.
As he approaches Lincoln Boulevard, he realizes he's out of cigarettes. He feels his jeans frantically, square jaw tightening in frustration, wishing more than anything he had a smoke right now. In his right jacket pocket are some rolling papers and a mostly-empty pouch of dried up Gaulois he brought over from Mexico last year. You can't get the good French stuff in the USA anymore, since the EU sanctions went into effect. There are six squad cars arranged in the intersection of Wilshire and Lincoln. As Chevy cuts kitty-corner past them into the Mobil station, he decides it's best to wait and see if anyone at the protest has some weed to mix with what little tobacco he has. There are only a handful of cops here at Lincoln, turning traffic south; the rest have left their cruisers and gone up to stand on the riot line. Which might be hard to cross, he realizes.
RenČe's bar is shuttered up against the storm. As he passes the Third Street Promenade he sees it eerily devoid of life, Banana Republic and Barnes and Noble all with their lights off, guards armed with shotguns at the doors in case these protesters turn wild and decide to loot some sweatshop-made turtlenecks or Noam Chomsky screeds. Further down third block a hard-core contingent of old winos slouches indifferently around one of those stupid dinosaur fountains, ignoring the printed warnings that say "no loitering." But the jails will be full tonight and for many nights to come -- they understand this and have little hope of a warm place to sleep.
There's a tallish white guy with a frumply kind of bro-hawk and big sunglasses, walking alone up the Promenade -- he looks a lot like Chaz, and for a moment Chevy thinks his friend might have changed his mind and decided to come after all. But as the dude gets closer, it's clearly not him.
Up ahead, the setting sun is invisible beyond a dirty white layer of low-hanging stratus cloud. There's a cold ocean mist barely volatilized, sticking to Chevy's skin as he walks along. It's as close as Los Angeles ever comes to winter, this onshore flow; it's tolerably still at the moment but when night comes the wind will blow over the cliffs, off the ocean, a cold wet wind that will whistle and knife through the protesters and cops alike.
Not until he reaches the strip of Ocean Avenue that separates the deco-era hotels from the park does he see how insane it really is. Along the grass and under the palm trees, pickets stretch north all the way up to San Vicente and south to the pier. It's a solid mass of seriously disenfranchised individuals hemmed between their oppressors and the sea-cliffs. Bonfires are burning at various points scattered along the green strip. Bearded young men and girls with beads in their hair are dancing around the fires, shouting, singing; the noise is an impossible roar, drowning out the surf far below, a hundred different disorganized chants going off all at once, a violent sound like the righteous fury of democracy, and not a little bit of fear. Facing the protesters are three shoulder-to-shoulder lines of riot police stretching the whole ten blocks. They have been called in from Escondido, from Pomona and Victorville and a dozen other redneck 'burbs on the fringes of the liberal metropolis. There is fear on this side, too, and anger as well -- the righteous anger of good Americans who can't stand to see a bunch of thin-skinned, terrorist-sympathising Hollywood freaks and Jews trashing the American flag. Many of the cops are young, in their 20s and early 30s; have done tours in the hellish streets of Baghdad, the deadly cold Afghan Kush, the mine-laden olive groves of Iran; have seen their buddies blown to pieces by old Soviet artillery and burka-clad women laden with plastic explosives. And now here they are at home and these draft-dodging scumbags are throwing sticks at them, calling them nazis; these assholes whose freedom they almost died to defend; and these cops are not happy.
Behind the cops, down the center of Ocean Avenue between the haphazardly parked cruisers with their lights warbling American Red White and Blue, is an uneven assortment of Feds in black kevlar sniper gear and charcoal baseball caps, walking around with banana clips locked into their AK-47s. The badges on their uniforms say Federal Emergency Management Agency Police. Chevy guesses these are already set to automatic and feels a sharp twinge of fear, aware of the thinness of his nylon jacket. A quick glance up to the rooftops over the Avenue reveals several dozen sets of binoculars, more men in charcoal caps. This sort of heavily-armed Fed presence is atypical of protests he's been to before, although the Drudge Channel recently aired a report about the Secret Service stepping up their presence at these things. Chevy wonders seriously for the first time whether he should have come here.
But he's here now, and at the moment he's standing on the wrong side of the law, so trying not to think too hard about it he walks along the jersey barriers until he comes to a point where a stream of protesters is being let into the Free Speech Zone. He approaches the raggedy line. A middle-aged lesbian couple holding a rainbow banner lets him step in front of them, smiling. He smiles back in gratitude. They seem like nice people. The line shuffles forward on converse and reebok, the odd kenneth cole dragging uncertainly.
Ahead of him, four members of a vog team are swiveling their heads around in characteristically slow, steady fashion, recording everything through the pin-sized cameras hidden in their matching metrosexual blue shades. They're instantly identifiable as voggers by their costume -- all-black, mandarin-collared shirts embroidered with a web address in old-english lettering under an intricately rendered logo of a green and gold dragonfly. One of them passes his gaze over Chevy; Chevy's just been vogcast. All over the world, subscribers tuned into the Dragonflys'site can see him, one small panel surrounded by the dozens of other live streams and advertisements being sent out by the team. The vogger pans his head away and follows his mates, who are being let through the barricades one by one, dispersing into the crowd in search of good footage.
When Chevy gets to the front of the line his blood freezes; two disgusted-looking cops have their AKs leveled at his chest. Their features are hard to make out, obscured beyond the reflections of dark clouds and yellow streetlights that warp around their plexiglass face shields; but he isn't looking at their faces, he's staring with a dry throat at the two black muzzles that are aimed at him. He's never had a gun pointed at him before. His heart contracts to the size of a grape. Another cop is patting him down forcefully around the ankles. The cop reaches up and grabs Chevy's nuts as if about to pull them off. Chevy chokes. The cop stands and shoves him from behind into the swirling multitude and then, with a little trip over the curb that almost lands him face-first on the grass, Chevy finds himself inside the protest. Ostensibly either safe or completely fucked now, he figures, depending on which way it goes for everyone else.
Actually, he thinks, looking around, it's surprising how easy it was to get in here.
A line of clean-cut guys hoisting identical signs reading "Down With Bush" goes edging through the crowd ahead of him. He follows them deeper into the densely packed bodies. Smells of pot and patchouli and cat piss waft by and mingle on the wet breeze. The daylight is fading quickly, the fires beginning to cast a ghostly orange over everyone.
Chevy is pushing his way mostly past peoples' necks and shoulders; he's fairly short. He has to make eye contact with people to get them out of his way, boring his black russian eyes intensely into their faces. Once they get a load of him they usually just nod politely and step aside. There's something intense and slightly psychotic in that glare that they decide they're better off without.
Halfway across the crowded lawn he stumbles over something soft, looks down to see a slim blonde girl with messy hair lying half-naked atop her boyfriend, who's got one muscled forearm up under the back of her skirt.
"Sorry," Chevy says, stepping over them. They don't notice. The sight of the girl reminds him of Victoria, who used to be a free-thinker too, and he wonders momentarily whether she's somewhere in this crowd. Probably not, he guesses; no doubt she's ensconsed in her warm, safe mansion with her old, Republican, sugardaddy husband, watching TiVo and getting drunk on some hideously expensive chardonnay.
What a bitch, he thinks, and wonders why he wasted so much time longing for her from behind the wheel of a checker cab while she'd already figured out that all you need to do in life is peddle your ass to the winning party while you're still young enough to be of value to them.
A short little girl with long red curls and a curvy body collides with Chevy; for an instant they're shoved together embarrassingly.
"Sorry," he says.
"Hey," she looks up at him with shining green eyes, "want one?"
He takes the flimsy plastic sign out of her hand. It says, in what looks like sloppy black lipstick, "Fuck War."
"Thanks," he says, "what's your name?"
But she's already being pushed along by the crowd at a great speed. "Katie!" She shouts back over her shoulder. Before he can call anything else out to her a big dude wearing silver cardboard handcuffs and chains and gold body makeup has interposed himself between them, and Katie is gone.
At the very back of the crowd, beyond the sandy path that winds along the cliffside, are a few square feet of relatively open space where the land rambles unsteadily toward the low concrete fence at the cliff's edge. Signs are posted along the fence warning pedestrians that the land here is in fact unstable, and could at any moment choose to shear itself off into the Pacific.
Chevy leans back against the rail, feeling the ocean's chill breath ruffle the back of his hair, and deftly rolls a cigarette. He feels how chapped his lips are as he licks the zig-zag shut. Without tilting his head he glimpses the rooftops across the Avenue; a sniper's mounted machine gun is pointed straight at him from the roof of a Swenson's ice cream parlor. He gives the cigarette a long french kiss to seal it and pretends not to notice this disturbing trend of having guns pointed at him.
He lights up and watches the crowd swarming past. Here they are: all the disenfranchised, freedom loving, unpurchased, politically motivated individuals left in Los Angeles. Most of them are dirty and poor-looking.
A chant starts up nearby, spreading from a circular knot surrounding a green park bench where a gaunt, nerdy-looking guy has stood up and begun shouting. He's got black rimmed glasses and a gray business suit, complete with scarlet necktie, all of which looks like it's been put through a paper-shredder from end to end. An average slashpunk wannabe out from Silverlake. He's shouting, "Can't Get Rid of Us! Can't Get Rid of Us!" And the crowd is following along.
It's a reference to something Bill O'Hannity said on Fox News the other day, in the middle of a softball interview with the Attorney General. Chevy saw the interview himself; it was something like this:
Attorney General Ashcroft: ...and what we've said all along, since the tragedy of 9/11, is that we need more cooperation between our intelligence agencies. And that we needed something like Patriot II to make sure that these terrorists don't...
O'Hannity: But Mr. Ashcroft, don't you think these draft dodgers are every bit as bad as the terrorists? They're contributing to terrorism. They blame America first for everything. As far as I'm concerned, they're on the side of the Iranians!
Ashcroft: Absolutely there are some, and we're investigating those vigorously. We're just beginning to see the full power of what Patriot I and II can do to help keep our country safe...
O'Hannity (playing tough): Well I hope you guys are up to it. Because there are good Americans out there, Mr. Ashcroft, and I know I speak for a lot of them when I say, I mean, we're the greatest country in the world, but we can only stay that way if we get rid of these people. These people are what's wrong with America and they're why we haven't kicked the Iranians' butts yet. Isn't it the job of the Justice Department to pick up on the home front where the State Department leaves off, and make sure these radicals and these, these enemy combatants aren't running loose in our streets?
Ashcroft: Certainly. You're absolutely right...
The rolled cigarette perched between his lips looking every bit like a fat joint, Chevy idles up to the edge of the slashpunk's grubby circle-chant and stands there uneasily. He's never liked joining in group activities. He's embarrassed to start shouting along so he just looks at them, sort of helplessly, fully agreeing with their statement but unable to open his mouth. He holds the sign that says "Fuck War" tentatively over his head, hoping it won't attract any rubber bullets.
Through a gap between shoulders he sees the redheaded girl, Katie, chanting along with the rest of them. "Can't Get Rid of Us!" She's repeating, and for an instant she looks at him and smiles something hopefully with her eyes.
Maybe this isn't such a bad place to pick up chicks, Chevy thinks. Since he broke up with Victoria he's found the dating scene in LA to be a lot like fishing off the Santa Monica pier; not much alive out there, just occasional mutants you have to throw back as quickly as possible.
But he doesn't try to approach the girl; it would be almost impossible to get through to her anyhow. The chanting goes on and he edges back to sit against the fence and watch from a distance. These French cigarettes have a nice long burn.
It's only September 9th, and all of this is just beginning to ramp up. By the 11th the protests will reach their crescendo as all the stored-up animosity is set free in a hopeless attempt to get some liberal airtime during the wall-to-wall Patriot's Day media orgy. All over the country right now, people are heading out into the streets to do exactly what Chevy is doing. Thinking with their own minds, talking to other people, meticulously deconstructing the glossy lies to reveal their inner truths; holding signs, exclaiming, shouting to the world and to whoever cares, standing up for what they believe in; for an end to the wars in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan; for a resumption of normal diplomatic relations with Europe; for the government to admit its own guilt and complicity in the World Trade Center bombings; for a return to the democracy that once made America what it was. This is democracy, of course. That Suit over there with the nerdy glasses having the right to say whatever the fuck he feels like saying, and the right of other people to listen and talk about it. That's the whole point. If this were really a democratic country, though, he'd be allowed to say it right into the President's face.
Or at least we'd be allowed to elect someone else, Chevy thinks. But all the candidates on this year's ballot, just like in 2004, come from the Skull and Bones cult. They don't even bother to hide that shit anymore.
Chevy is dimly aware that he's the only one around here smoking a cigarette. It's illegal to smoke in a public park; he knows that; but what are they gonna do, arrest him? They'd have to come through a lot of other people first. The little roach is almost out, anyway. He looks at it with heavy consideration.
Then there's a presence at Chevy's side and he smiles without even thinking about it to see Katie's open, friendly face shining up at him.
"Hey smoker, got another one of those?"
"I can roll you one," he half-smiles, pulling the pouch from his pocket again. "You don't have any weed, do you?"
"Matter of fact," she winks, "here." They turn around and lean over the concrete railing together. She hands him a fat nug and he works a little grass off it, fingers pinching inside the mini ziploc bag. He crumbles the greenery into a paper and sprinkles in some tobacco, rolling the whole contraption gently between thumb and forefinger.
"I don't even know if I should," he hedges, mostly to himself, "it makes me paranoid sometimes."
"Me too," she reassures him, "but this stuff is pretty shwaggy."
"You go to school around here?" he asks casually.
"SMC," she says. "You?"
"Didn't you know there's another march Downtown?"
"Yeah, but my mom lives out here. Had dinner with her."
"How's she doing?"
"My mom?" he laughs, "okay, I guess."
"Mine's scared shitless," she grimaces.
"You live with your family?"
"Why's she scared?"
"She watches the news a lot," Katie glances at him poignantly.
"Don't you?" he inquires.
"Yeah. I'm scared too, I guess."
"Well at least you're out here doing something about it." He's trying to stroke her ego but she looks unhappy.
"We're the ones who're gonna have to live with this," she reminds him, "not them."
"Yeah, I fuckin' wish other kids felt the same way."
She hands the spliff back to him. He takes a long lazy toke, holding it in. He can feel the smoke buzzing around in his head; suddenly this protest scene is starting to look a lot more like a party.
"So what's your sign?" he asks, letting the smoke out with a wheezy giggle.
She's laughing, too. "Aquarius. Aw, you're cute when you smoke pot!"
Chevy feels himself beginning to blush.
The pressure in the crowd behind them has increased somehow, almost imperceptibly, and they both turn back from the fence at the same time. From beyond, in the Avenue, there's a deep and growing rumble that they can't immediately see the source of; they feel it more than hear it. The vibrations come up under the bassy dub thumping off the big portable sound system, ominously piercing the musical shell around the park. The cop cars must have parted because now the tall canvas tops of Army trucks are coming into view.
"Hey," he says slowly, "are you here by yourself?"
"Yeah," she murmurs, watching what he's watching. The crowd is beginning to shift definitively northward all at once, not panicking yet but as if jostled by an unseen force whose shockwaves are spreading. An older man in his seventies, wearing a black fedora, trips and falls to the ground in front of them. Chevy reaches down and helps him to his feet.
"Maybe time to scram," the old guy reckons, dusting off his long black trench-coat, "just my advice, kids...gonna be New York all over again!" He disappears into the thick of the protesters, heading for the Avenue.
"My friends were in New York," Katie says, "one of them got hit with a rubber bullet and broke his rib."
"Where'd you park?" Chevy asks.
"I walked here," she tells him.
"South of Montana." Meaning Montana Avenue, the traditional dividing line between the wealthiest third of Santa Monica to the north and the middle- and lower-class thirds to the south.
"That's not so far," he shrugs, "I'm parked behind Anastasia's."
"Yeah," she looks around, "I'm thinking we should get out of here maybe, if the army's moving in."
"At least be ready to. Did you see anywhere people were coming out?"
"Not as I walked in. It was already pretty packed," she says.
"Maybe the North end."
"That's where I came in."
"No exit?" he wonders. That's when it hits him. This whole damn thing is a set up like a trap.
There are National Guardsmen jumping down off the trucks, a stream of camouflaged bubble-helmets.
The confusion in the crowd is intensifying, becoming tangibly dangerous, the unified front of protesters fracturing into the vibe of several thousand frighened animals sensing all at once that they've been cornered.
A burst of automatic gunfire rings out over the heads of the assembled; this is followed by an immediate intensification of the shouting. The crowd begins heaving furiously, nearly trampling one another toward the north end of the park. Chevy and Katie huddle together in their little nook, an acute angle formed by the concrete railing where it swerves inward from the jagged cliff. She's unconsciously gripping his bicep tightly, as if when she lets go she might be swept away.
Now a voice crackles loud and sharp, squealing and crackling from speakers mounted atop the army-drab trucks.
"STOP WHERE YOU ARE. PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEADS. KNEEL ON THE GROUND."
The throng of people shoves even more furiously.
"STOP IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE SHOT. I REPEAT. PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEADS AND KNEEL ON THE GROUND."
Several long rounds of gunfire follow this order, screams and wails going up from the part of the crowd closest to the street. The troops have shot into the crowd. A skater kid with a whispy goatee and a rasta beanie stops and kneels right in front of Chevy and Katie. One of the guy's friends catches him by the sleeve and tries to pull him along but other people are stopping ahead of them. There's another choking expulsion of bullets, this time to the North. The skater's buddies are kneeling now, too, staring at the ground, white with shock as waves of noxious gas begin to sweep over them.
All across the lawn, people are beginning to get on their knees. They choke; water streams from their eyes. In a few moments it's done. No one moves. Chevy and Katie are practically the last ones standing. Chevy's staring through a blur of tears at the Guardsmen advancing towards him, picking their way across the field of bent bodies with their guns slung to point down at the citizens. He feels Katie grab his hand, lets her pull him down to ground level. She is pressing something into his hand; he can't tell what it is. Something small and metallic. He slides it into the pocket of his windbreaker. They put their hands atop their heads.
The voice from the loudspeaker resumes.
"YOU ARE UNDER MILITARY DETENTION PURSUANT TO PATRIOT ACT SECTIONS 802 AND 803. YOU HAVE BEEN CLASSIFIED AS ENEMIES OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT. THIS DETENTION IS FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY AS U.S. CITIZENS. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ISSUE A COMPLAINT TO A MILITARY COURT. REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE."
"What the fuck?" Chevy whispers under his breath, not daring to wipe the long train of snot from his lips.
The first soldier across the field is headed straight for the back rail. Seemingly at random, he shoves his gun into the rasta kid's back. The kid rolls into an even tighter ball, if that's possible.
"If we get separated," Katie whispers, "try and tell my parents where I am. My last name's ShoĪn."
"Sherin?" Chevy whispers back.
"You six," the guardsman barks, "get up." Chevy isn't sure whether he was indicated. He remains down but now the grunt's gun points straight at his face. "You too."
Chevy stands and follows the others, three young men and two girls, picking their way between the cowering, shivering bodies, shoulders hunched, trying to present as small a target as possible to the gunmen they can all feel honing in on them from above.
"Into this truck," the soldier orders. They crawl up into the canopied rear of the transport and stand there, dumb. "Move to the back," growls another soldier standing within, who's also got them at gunpoint.
No one argues. They shuffle silently all the way into the truck and stand against the back wall.
A tall, waifish girl with little braids is sobbing. She sits down now and lowers her blonde head between her legs. The rasta kid leans over and strokes her shoulders, trying to comfort her.
"You, leave her alone," says the soldier guarding the truck. He's all business. "You, lady, stand up."
Chevy looks past the military men and the prisoners, chooses a palm tree outside at random and fixes his eyes on it. The tree is pure black against the pinkish glare reflected off the night sky. It sways slowly, evenly in the onshore breeze. Little filaments of fibrous, leafy fronds tickle its long smooth neck. He stares at this alien thing, attempting to think of nothing else. He tries not to imagine where he's being taken or what will happen next. Whatever comes, this palm tree was there this morning and it will be there tomorrow. There are millions of palm trees like it in the world, and if he could just figure out how to find pleasure in something as simple as staring at one and appreciating its dumb fucking existence, then it wouldn't matter how bad things got; the sight of the world would always be enough. The existence of these things should be enough. We are, this is, it should be...enough. But you can't live on a nice view. And then what about suffering. More and more people begin to fill the truck, squeezed together under the soldiers' guns. They crush Chevy against the rear wall and block his view of the sky with their sweaty, undulating mass. The canopy of the truck fills with the metallic smell of rabid fear.
Chevy begins to worry that where he's going there might not be any trees to look at.