President Bush: It's very simple. The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 upholding the Patriot Act, that enemy combatants are those who seek to use force or coersion, or to change this country's or another country's government. Tom?


Tom Williams, NBC: Uh, Sorry Mr. President, I had another question but -- what do you mean by "or"?


President Bush: I don't know what you mean. I think I said it as plainly as I could. Are you alright, Tom? You look like you could use some fresh air there, buddy. Yeah, Chet?


Chet Barker, Fox: Mr. President, how is your wrist feeling after the golfing sprain last week?


President Bush: Thanks for askin', Chet. I'm doin' great. Never felt better. Feel like I'm gonna live for a thousand years.


-White House News Conference; September 10th, 2008; 8 AM PST.


It's a cheap, silver-alloy kind of ring Doonan bought back in Juarez; carven into the top of it is the face of El Diablo, couple of little horns poking out. The horns make it catch on stuff occasionally. But you can stick your cigarette in between them horns while you're blasting out a solo, which is pretty cool. Doonan taps the ring a couple times against the side of the highball glass, watching the sharp blues and yellows of the desert outside swirling past, reflected in his ice cubes. After a moment's consideration, he drains the vodka from the glass, reaches across the table to where the bottle is sitting next to a passed-out Billie, and pours another shot.

The rocks and weeds of Arizona are whipping by outside the big picture windows of the makeshift tour bus, the Battlestar as they call it. Mottled red and brown landscape, beaten with time, hard and indigestible. It's a hundred and ten fucking degrees out there. This isn't the luxurious high plains desert of New Mexico, where big puffy lightning clouds mute the smooth, hilly landscape, promising rain. This desert is all light and angles, like a Gehry building. He's not sure he likes this desert. It's silent and judgemental, an equal opportunity nothing with its own set of rules.

There's nothing you want less from an audience than silent and judgemental. Luckily the Wetnesses have never had to deal with that.

Joey comes out of the shower, his big 'fro mangled wet and caught in his eyes, his skinny white ass wrapped only in an American Flag towel. He crashes down on the brown pleather bench opposite the table from the near-catatonic Doonan, which generates an instant girlish yelp from Billie, who wakes up and tries to extract her foot from under him.

"Don't drink too fast," Joey warns, "we still have a lot of road ahead of us."

"Dude what the fuck are you talking about," Billie says in her little-girl voice, blinking cute as can be out of her stupor. She rubs one eye and blinks as platinum-bleached hair falls into the other. "Hey my man, gimme something to wake me up."

"Here," says Doonan, offering her a cigarette from a soft-pack of camels.

"Something else, too."

"Something else? We gotta go in back for that."

"No, not that you dumb boy. Gimme some'a that russian stuff you got."

"Oh, this?" Doonan fakes. "I think it's swedish."

"I don't give a fuck," she says, taking his glass and pounding it down in a gulp. "Wow, I feel a lot better already. Don't you think it's weird how different medicines work at different speeds?"

Joey's not impressed. He poses toward the barren mountains rolling by, affecting a forlorn majesty that's made slightly ridiculous by the dripping of his 'fro. "Look, this tour's going down the drain as it is."

"Might as well be drunk for it," Kenny suggests over his shoulder from the wheel of the Winnebago. Kenny's the bassist. He keeps his hair cut above neck level to show that he's by far the most sensible of the group. He's the one they let talk to people that try to hassle them. So Joey drops the subject.

Doonan studies his drink again, thinking. There's a long silence, punctuated suddenly by a sound from the back bedroom, a low animal growl rising in pitch to a girlish shriek. It's cut off suddenly as if someone slapped a hand over someone else's mouth. Will, the drummer, is back there with his girlfriend Tina, who's doubling this tour as their merch chick and tour manager.

"We knew these three days might be rough," Doonan shrugs, "going up to the eleventh. All the protesters out protesting."

"What I wanna know is, how come half the people who bought tickets didn't even show up," Joey complains.

"That was Phoenix. Phoenix sucks. LA's gonna be totally different."

As if to promise them new hope, what's left of the mighty Colorado has come into view. On the other side, the blasted yellow vistas of California rise into jagged ziggurats.

"Hey," Billie cheers, "look, that's California. That's where I'm from."

Joey and Doonan watch silently from the window, lost in their own worlds.

"Border checkpoint," Kenny warns from up front. "Weird, they usually don't stop you until you're in California."

"Hide the weed," says Doonan.

"Hide the blow," says Joey.

"Fucking hide yourself," Billie laughs, "they see that thing on your head they'll mistake you for a wild animal."

Kenny brings the 'bago into a slow deceleration. Everyone hides something on their person. They come to a stop and remain chill.

They can only hear Kenny's part of the conversation, but it sounds alright.

"Yeah, five of us. Yeah, hey you're hip man. Yeah we're the Wetnesses. Well," he glances back, "they're not all dressed right now, know what I mean? But hey, you gonna be in LA tomorrow night? Oh your sister, really, that's great! I mean, I got a girlfriend already -- just kidding, hah. You want some backstage passes for her?"

Another weird, lascivious groan emanates from the back bedroom.

Billie is trying to control a sudden case of the giggles. Doonan looks at her sharply. "Quit spazzing out," he snaps.

She sticks her tongue out at him.

Kenny hands a couple of bright orange laminated passes to the border control cop and gives him a big, shiny trademark Kenny smile. It's a great kind of smile because when you see it you know Kenny's a smart, good-natured guy, and he knows you, he's totally understood all your quirks and idiosyncracies, and he really likes you.

As they pull off, the cop, a tall, attractive guy no older than 25, is waving and squinting into the tinted picture windows, trying to get a look inside.


Next Chapter --->