"Now of course we've been blaming the protests on the terrorists, but the really smart next step is blaming the terrorism on the protesters. That's an application of the Leadership Principle, Mr. President -- and it'll let them know what a strong leader you really are."

-Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz; Meeting of the Joint Chiefs; September 9th, 2008; 1:23 PM EST.


"In a new statement, issued by Osama Bin Laden today and confirmed by anonymous government sources, the criminal mastermind demanded that his jihadist followers in America take to the streets to celebrate the 9/11 attacks and protest the Coalition Police Action in Iran.

In other news, three marines were killed and six wounded today in Teheran, when a camel exploded outside an oil pumping-station. More than sixteen thousand US and coalition troops have been killed or wounded since the US declared victory in Iran last November."

-Fox News Channel; September 9th, 2008; 4:00 PM PST.


"Naw, naw," Chaz protests, "we'll just have a drink."

Hazel curls against the passenger window, looking pouty and not saying much. Night has fallen. The signage along Pico Boulevard punctures the starless sky with a crisp glow of noxious yellows and greens as Chaz's white '81 Trans Am slaloms between slower-moving cars, shimmering like a glossy breathmint.

"Can't we just go to the Lost and Found?" Hazel gripes.

"Nick really wants to go. Chill."

"Don't tell me to chill."

"Sorry. Look, we'll get out of there soonish. We'll convince him to go to Lost and Found."


"Soon-ish. Ish." He clasps the wheel with both hands, trying to keep it jokey. The big pink and purple sign for Fantasy Lei is rising up ahead on the left, just beyond the 405 overpass.


They pass Nick's battered old volvo and find parking on a side street. Hazel leads the way through the purple maroon curtains, into the dark foyer.

"You're five bucks, you're free, baby," the fat cholo at the door tells them.

Chaz digs deep into his pockets, ponies up a five. The cholo sits there on his stool, holds out his hand in a "be my guest" gesture. Purple light gleams dully off his shaved scalp. Hazel's already inside.

Chaz cruises through the dim redness of the room; it is light calibrated at just the right color and intensity to make even the ugliest 'ho look decent. And these girls aren't ugly at all. A quick sweep of Chaz's eyes reveals three girls dancing on two separate stages. All he really sees are long white limbs, some long black limbs, the flash of glassy light off six-inch high heels, the silvery reflection of twin splayed buttocks riding against a slippery chrome pole. Then his eyes find Hazel. He is already automatically feigning disinterest in the scene around him. He slides up next to her at the bar.

"Where's Nick?" she wonders.

"I don't -- know..." Chaz steals another look around the room, pretending to search for his friend. His eyes catch those of a little Asian chick down at the end of the bar. Ruby lip gloss. Purple sparkle bikini top. Flat, sexy smooth, oh, smooth sexy stomach. His vision grapples with what looks in the shadows to be -- yes, it is -- a tiny cleft where her shimmering bikini rides up between her legs.

"Well maybe he's getting a lapdance," Hazel rolls her eyes, "You want one too? Maybe I should buy you one from her."

"Who?" Asks Chaz, way too innocently. Then he grins, pretending to look up at the ceiling.

"Yeah," Hazel mutters. "Whatever."

Chaz clinks his beer against Hazel's, turns to soak in more titties. She perches on the red leather stool, completely ignoring what's going on around her, and gazes bleakly toward the TV behind the bar. The latest music video by the Cokes is flashing and lipsyncing soundlessly across the small flatscreen. It's the one where they're all wearing slashed Coca-Cola t-shirts, their big sponsorship video from last year. She remembers when the Cokes used to be a dirty New York-rock band, before they changed to bleep-and-scream and most recently became slash. She knows they're the ultimate trendsters, but even their corporate videos are still strangely appealing.

Momentarily, the red curtains off to the left of the main stage part and Nick comes reeling through. He's only half on Earth; his blue eyes are rolling slightly from whatever heavenly experience he's nearly almost had. The rest of his round, freckled face is set in a crooked grin, tweaking the cleft of his chin and the normal sincerity of his sensuous lips. He's playing googly-eyed for effect -- he's already spotted Chaz.

"Hey...wassup boys! 'Sup boyyyy.....s? Oh," he straightens, "Hi Hazel, guess I'm drunk."

"What's up," she returns, with a nonchalance bordering on disinterest. She rolls her eyes back toward the television for effect.

"'Sup man?" Chaz shakes Nick's hand. "Some hot biz?"

"Oh my God," Nick moans -- "Wait. Wait 'til she comes out." He turns around. "Oh, there she is. On the stage. How'd she get out here before me?"

"The black chick?"

"Aww yeah."

"Nice one man," Chaz boosts him, "She's your type."

"I wish they'd go for me in real life."

"You should've asked to be born black."

"At least I'm black where it counts," Nick grins.

Hazel lets out a weird yelp of laughter, then silences herself.

"Hey so where's Chevy," Nick asks, "wasn't he coming?"

"Che...e...uh," Chaz remembers, "oh, he went to the protest."

"Oh, shit. I should have gone to that."

"Yeah, I don't know. I think he went by himself."

"Dude I heard on my way over here that a bunch of people went out of control and got arrested."
"Shit look at -- what?" Chaz's head snaps back and forth, "Really?"

Hazel belts him surreptitiously in the thigh with her koala bear handbag.

"I can't even believe the fucking bullshit I was hearing on the radio, actually," Nick remembers. "Yo, Jani, can I get another Bud on my tab?"

A dark-haired Latina slides the icy bottle at him over the bar. "Thanks," says Nick, taking a long swig. "It's great now that I know all their names," he grins sincerely, "pretty soon I might be able to get half off lapdances."

"Frequent flier package?" Chaz ventures.

"Jet Blew," Nick submits.

"Jet-blue balls more like it...So what'd you hear on the way over here?" Chaz leads him back.

"Oh yeah, dude. It was fucking insane. They were saying some bullshit about that Bin Laden was sponsoring these protests as a way to fuck up the country more on 9/11 again? And depress the stock market, so he could make money by selling short. And that protesters who were helping Al Qaeda were being arrested because they were enemy combatants."

"Damn, dude, enemy combatants?"

"Yeah, and that means you lose your rights as a citizen and you don't get a lawyer or a trial, you just get put in jail."

"Wait -- seriously? Dude, have you called Chevy?"

"No," Nick frowns, "I thought he was just coming with you guys."


Next Chapter --->