Glenn and Anne did wind up going to Cohen's – if only because so many foreign Conks had approached them for advice over the afternoon caucuses that it would have raised eyebrows if they hadn't. Ellsworth (L.) Cohen was the city's largest furniture dealer (outside of the two national chains): the reception taking place in his showroom where, in fact, they encountered, and without iteration, Tom Beedle – reclining upon a Barcalounger twixt two of L’s TV models – a minor Roman Emperor sipping three fingers of Jack as the Hollywood-bedazzled girls fed him crackers smeared with crab dip.










          Hector Nescoso circled clockwise amidst the blond plywood kitchen cabinets, hanging chrome and faux-gold faucets, working delegates. Counter-clockwise... and at a somewhat slower pace... Paul Rinker bent the occasionally sympathetic ear on behalf of the patriarch from Colorado. Around nine they heard Mayor Potter braying at the threshold, but someone quickly approached Pinhead, a man from the Urinal... or one of the TV stations, maybe... there were rumors of trouble at City Hall, so the Mayor hustled off, adult beverage in hand.

          Cohen leaned Catfish, Glenn learned, but Parnell was a no-show… still holed up on Miller's Ridge, Kentucky, probably shooting birds and small animals… Pat O'Neraghty dropped by with a DVD, so delegates drifted towards Home Entertainment where it was set up to play on sets ranging from the new, portable four-inchers to one flat wall model, six feet high, using the newest high definition technology, imported from Prague. Catfish, sitting on a stoop or a stump or a fencepost… something rural and woodsy… began with a funny story about sex and the Internet, then started talking about Japan, the desolation in Hungary caused by American and German runaway companies moving out to China or, increasingly after the plague, Vietnam, Arabic migrants (who might or might not be terrorists) moving in, and Russian troops on the march north and east from occupied Eastern Ukraine across their former “stans”.  He ridiculed more Congressional posturing in Washington on the trade deficits and scratched the ears of the two hounds at his feet.  Pat tapped Glenn on the shoulder, nodded to Anne while the delegates applauded an ancient (and, under the circumstances, rather cruel) Bob Dole Viagra joke, discussed which issue (or combination thereof) had lowered the President’s popularity to thirty-one percent and, deriding Justin and Beyonce, reminisced about Paris and Britney, knocking back bottles of frosty Heinekens and Zero Clock. Both followed Pat, Cohen and a man they'd never seen before upstairs to the office as soon as the obligatory answering skype from Tillerman began.

          The stranger introduced himself as Tauter, Duane Tauter; Cohen waved and departed, Pat locked the door. "Tauter's a sort of hacker, knows his way around the big data," O’Neraghty began.  “Wiki-Big!” Actually, he looked as if he'd be more comfortable breaking legs in Vegas, Glenn would remark to Anne later that night, back at the Ivona, but both had just nodded and let the big man speak his piece.

          "Rayna Finch has had me tracking Tillerman," the big fellow said in a rather surprisingly high-pitched voice, a nerd's voice... and Tauter even took out a pair of plain, black nerd-glasses to read some of the printout he'd brought. "Eighteen months ago he installed cookie-cutters on his office and home terminals, upgrading as soon as the new codes came into effect, so I haven't been able to draw much of a recent profile. Before that, however..."

          Tauter coughed discreetly, allowing Pat a second opportunity to check the locks on Cohen's office. "We're not here, as if anybody didn't know already," he smirked.

          "What's the payoff on our sequoia-spiking laddie?" Anne rapped her fingers impatiently on the furniture mogul's desk. "Downloading Metallica or Jurassic Six from the Pirate’s Rook?  Playing footsie with Big Oil? With the Attorney General?  The Russkies?"

          "Playing footsie... period. Oh, and other bodily parts," Tauter added. "The grand old man of the Rockies is… or, to be fair, was… into webporn. Creepy stuff!"

          "Kids?" said Glenn with rather more Roy Moorish hope in his voice than he'd have liked to express.

          Tauter held his hand out, palm down, then wiggled it three times.

          "That?" Anne recoiled.  “Officer in the Kevin Spacey-force?  Gives new meaning to Senator Craig’s list…”

          "Tillerman claims that he's an atheist," Pat O'Neraghty said, leaning against Cohen's wall, "but he's like God to some of those Christian militia groups who deserted Ted Cruz after Caitlyn Jenner endorsed him and then that flap over endorsing Trump despite his flaking out on the one-six and getting rewarded with that military transgender ban which the Supremes overturned and now are over-overturning after the assassinations. Or at least, I guess, a sort of parish priest of... ahem, the Boston sort? Playing out his Ernst Rohm fantasies with strapping young skinhead bucks, whereas Jack's trying to bring all of these militia communities into the mainstream, onto Main Street.  Oodles of Pentagon pork, floating McRaven… or is it McChrystal, one of those military Macs… as a dump-Harris alternative for Vice? That's why our members don't just pay their forty dollars, they take an oath, too. First you have neighborhood self-defense groups, organized on the military model... weeds out the Roofs and Zimmermans and disgruntled Uber drivers… next, it becomes a political organization."

          "Tillerman says we dilute the purity of the movement," Anne grasped, "...but if..."

          “Full Milo,” Pat smiled.

          "Before he upgraded his security, Tillerman also had hits on some pretty hard websites here and in Europe," Tauter continued. "Hundreds of presumably congratulatory e-mails to out-and-out Law and Justice Nazis in Poland and what’s left of the Ukraine, nothing neo about some of those.  The Youth Traditionalists before they crawled back to Trump and the Charlottesvillians.  Haider, the Hunkies and the French, of course; Brigitte Bardot's homepage, Marie LePen's.  Sturmwatch, the Rudolph appreciation sites here, Church of the Covenant etcetera. Tree poisoners!  Kenosha teenagers.  Alt-everything!  Plenty of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloos, Argentines and Venezuelans, before and after the coups. Gun show dealers..."

          "You sure there aren't also any communications with the oilies?" Glenn persisted. "Maybe through their lobbyists? I can get lists..."

          Tauter reached up with a tired hand and removed his glasses. "All of us can get lists. Thing is... can you get bodies to do the crosschecking, or better programs?"

          "I'll work on it!" Anne promised. She held up a hand, crossing her fingers, then only the middle finger, pointed in the direction of Masty Hall.








          Most toilets in the Hall of Justice holding cells were stopped up so, unlike at State Prison, the desirable beds were those uppermost on two three-tiered bunks facing one another across the sides of the cells. These, to Andy's relief, were solid concrete blocks, not metal bars. Having one of the low bunks sucked, but it was a hell of a lot better than having no bunk at all, which was the case when late arrivals started filtering in. After one bloodied, unconscious man was deposited on the lowest opposite bunk just before dinnertime... snoring alcoholic fumes that made Andy's meal of baloney and cheese sandwich, stale potato chips and some green, vegetable mush even less palatable than it could have been... three newcomers were sent in at around a quarter after eight, holding the inch-thick spongy foam bedrolls that HoJo distributed to its overflow. Street vermin... Andy recognized one eighty-sixed from the Sanctuary; he tried to pull the little Spanish guy out of his second-tier bunk until Andy and the disco fellow with the tattoos took turns holding and kicking him. Andy finally threw the skell against the toilet where he lay, moaning, while the rest of the holding cell watched the last five minutes of "You Bet Your Car!" on the off-brand channel ubiquitous to the incarcerated and the insomniacs…

          The host, an actor who'd bounced from one failed sitcom to another as long as Andy could remember, offered his surviving contestant fifty thousand dollars as grand prize against their ten year old Buick… sole transportation (and, Andy suspected, housing, too) for his stringy-haired, haunted wife and two fidgety children. The question was about the Franco-Prussian war; poor moax didn't have a prayer and didn't even guess... the camera zoomed in to follow the progress of a solitary teardrop down his dusty, stuttering cheek while the Jumbotron showed his car gripped between the jaws of the crushing machine and crushed. Just before a DreamBellTM pop-up, one of the cameras caught just the knees and feet of a doll, thrust through the crumpling metal of a back door, then severed; the half of the studio audience visible went batshit, screaming and applauding while the wife brushed tears and strands of hair out of her daughter's face and a pretty lady in sequins and cleavage handed the loser his one way bus tickets back to from where they’d come.

          Then, after conventional commercials for banks and burgers, ABM malt liquor with the mushroom cloud exploding over a desert and Daimler-Chrysler, on came a "Friends" rerun... old friends, Andy thought, having lost interest years ago. Nobody had ever been there for him, and he'd gotten used to it.

          "Remember when they used to give away millions on the game shows?" the tattooed man said to nobody in particular.

          "That was then," said one of the new arrivals, a black man with an accent that reminded Andy of the Ghanians who sold rugs and prayer shawls on Bendis Street, across from the U., squatting on his government bedroll, back against the bars, far away from the toilet as he could squeeze. "Back in them good times!" he added.

          "Good times, yeah!" answered Disco... "I was driving, then, for that parcel service and I'd watch them all on this little battery six-incher I kept in the cab... twenty-one, sixty-four, millionaire... who'd wanna marry any millionaires now that the world’s so full of billionaires? Used to clear four large a week, with overtime!"

          "Th...thousan'?" the bloody drunk sat up and rallied...

          "As if," Cleveland smirked, then shook his head ruefully. "But you could buy a cuppa coffee for under a buck before the tax.  Good times!" and he shook his head, "then they wired those spy devices into the transmission where, if you go over fifty-five on the fuckin’ highway, recalibrates to keep the per-mile payments level.  Fired me for tryin’ to disconnect…put me on the redlight list."

          "People now desire to watch people get beat up worse than they get beat up," said the African and nobody had anything else to say, so they watched syndicated sitcom reruns with pop-ups they couldn't control, for lack of a remote buzzer, until around ten, when the guards brought in two more detainees... thin, elderly wraiths, almost collapsing under the weight of their bedrolls. These shuffled like a couple of Christ's sick uncles carrying their thin, foam crosses... blinking, as if the dim light from the television and the low-wattage bulbs in the corridor hurt their eyes.

          One wanted to talk, speaking in a far-away, lost little mumbles Andy strained to barely hear above the true crime documentary. "Cops all over Sylvania Park, cops and National Guard. They rounded up mos’ everybody... took my blankets and water bottle and threw them into this big dumpster, said they were gonna burn it. Why’d they have to do that?" he appealed. "Burn my water?"

          "Making the city safe for the Conks," Andy determined. "Where were the Turks?"

          "Oh... them You-nighted Nations officers, they was there, too," the little man murmured, punctuating his remarks with coughing and a sibilant sigh at the oddest interval that started a little worm of paranoia crawling through Andy's gut... CV Seventh Wave, the Malaysian variant?  Tuberculosis?  "Had their helicopters up there with searchlights and about a thousand drones, helping the police roust people out of bushes... wouldn't let them beat on me but they said my blankets 'n water had to be burned, 'cause they might have bugs. They don't have bugs!" he insisted, "except what are them natural types, for the outdoors? Crickets and centipedes, that kind, you know, don't hurt nobody. Gimme their card," and he proffered a little blue pamphlet with the globe and weeds on the cover and, as Andy well knew, simple advice within, like: "Do not argue with policemen!" and, also, a directory of local information. Much of that was out-of-date or just plain wrong, like the mention that the Jefferson Street Sanctuary was City funded or, for that matter, that Reverend Malik's operation was "nonprofit, nondenominational and nonpartisan and open to all".

          Andy would have skimmed it towards the busted toilet, but the little man looked like he might have need of it, wrong as it might be, so he handed it back and everybody watched the television until the late Thursday news came on.  After the muted imagery of the Sancturary broadcasts, this was almost a novelty.

          "This is Bobby Weeks," said the male announcer with the blue blazer and big hair after his music faded down..."

          "And I'm Marla Segretti," chimed in his even grander-coiffed co-anchor, eliciting a chorus of obscene suggestions...

          "And this is Eleven at Eleven!" finished Weeks. "At the top of the news, Mayor Potter declared today that, with help from the Governor, Federal forces under the Patriot Act Revision Six, Insurrection Agency and the United Nations, the city was being made safe for the opening of the convention of the Coalition for a New Consensus tomorrow morning!"

          Far away and unseen, in the Channel Eleven newsroom, Nelson gestured to the console technician to bring up the Mayor's press conference, which Tom Lavin had taped, earlier that day. The rotund, sweaty profile of Pinhead brought groans and obscenities, not only from Andy's own holding cell, but from others, all the way up and down the block.

          "As the Coalition for a New Consensus prepares for tomorrow's opening," Mayor Potter waxed triumphant, "another united coalition of Federal, state and local law enforcement, U.N. peacekeepers and community human rights observers under Reverend Malik Owen is engaged in the difficult but necessary task of making our streets safe for our distinguished visitors. With the co-operation of former Congressman Jack Parnell, environmental activist Austin Tillerman, businesswoman Rayna Finch and literally hundreds... both Coalition staff and local volunteers... tomorrow morning will see the opening of a safe and successful convention that can only reflect positively on our City, and on all who live and work here..."

          And then, for the seven seconds allowed by the FCC, a swarm of animated vermin died horribly in a quarter-screen pop-up touting the virtues of a brand-name insecticide... someone at the station with a sense of humor, Andy nodded. Pinhead turned, his porcine snout quivering with satisfaction as his lips, thick as turkey giblets, pursed into a rigor mortis smile... "and," he added, "send the right message out to any employers thinking of doing business here!"

          "Four hundred a week," Disco reminisced with a misty, distant smile.  “Dollars!… twentieth-century dollars!  Could take home a pizza every Sunday afternoon for the game, on that!”

          "Mayor Potter and Reverend Owen stressed tonight," said Bobby Weeks, now back in focus and shaking the papers he held authoritatively... though Andy noted his eyes were well above them and slightly off to the right, probably reading from a monitor... "that the civil rights of delegates, the press, people with no affiliation to the Coalition who, nonetheless, have come here to lobby or to protest, even local homeless who have, in the past, expressed objections to the Convention, will be well protected."

          And then Weeks dissolved and Malik appeared, dark glasses bobbing on his nose like a car with bad shocks bouncing down one of the neglected streets of the South End. "We got kitchens at the church workin' overtime... we got the good folks from the Living End and Pizza Factory lending us their ovens. We got plenty of yesterday’s best Starbucks coffee and TastyKix donuts, we've fixed up dinner for three hundred tonight, we'll do five hundred tomorrow. Chicken and slaw, biscuits and beans... you know,” he grinned, “ – whenever Owen Malik rolls round, there’s gonna be lots of beans..."

          "He told all the reg’lars don't come in tonight," sighed the little Costa Rican man in the second-tier bunk during the commercials for GenoSpin, the hormone for healthy fetal development (with the doctors who emphasized it was not cloning), and Fowler's Transmissions, "tomorrow night, all the way through to Sunday."

          "In national news," Marla Segretti said, "relatives and supporters of Baby Claire said that their dramatic appeal to the public has already raised over three hundred thousand dollars. Doctors in Florida have agreed to perform the difficult, experimental surgery if seven hundred forty-five thousand dollars could be raised by the end of the week and father, Steven, a forklift operator, said they'd make it, no matter what."

          “Fucker still got a job,” snarled Disco…

          In the box over the newscaster's right shoulder, a pop-up touted insurance, over his left shoulder appeared the head of a man, somewhat balding but determined in a knit shirt with other men in suits, maybe attorneys, looking over his shoulder. "We're gonna do this!" said the man, presumably the father, straining as if to drown out the insurance salesman. "We've sold the house, set up the eight-eighty-eight number and the Internet site; if I have to, I'll drive all the way to Hollywood to gamble my car. We're gonna do this!"

          "Oughta go to Malaysia!" commented Disco as another commercial aired – this one for an ambulance chaser seeking victims for a class-action lawsuit against GenoSpin. "Doctors there fix your prostrate for six hundred, cash... get you out of the hospital and back into the whorehouse in three days.  Three days!  Who needs the fuckin' Conks?  Or Greece – the Don Jones people say that country’s so damn bankrupt that doctors are cutting their fees to the bone… good doctors… they slice and dice you and then you’re up and touring the Parthenon in no time!"

          From his bunk, Andy wished them all the best, thinking of a remark he'd heard, or maybe glanced at in the Catfish book, or read in today's Urinal... that was it! "So let a cry of: 'We're from Washington, and we've got to do something!' go up at any crisis-of-the-week," Jack Parnell had said, "and, folks... all I can say is lock your daughters up..." then something else, finally "because the politics of posture's on the march!"  









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