The good elves on overtime had swarmed all over Masty Hall between midnight and sunrise - nailing red, white and blue bunting, warming up and oiling down the speakers and video cables, sweeping the aisles but... for all their labors… the hall was less than a quarter full when Henri Ratzelkreuz mounted the podium.








          Writing the sporadic heckling off as consequential of the previous evening's merrymaking... keeping things positive, as always... Ratso straightened the cream-coloured handkerchief in his breast pocket, tapped the microphone (working... fine!) and clapped his hands for attention. At the instant that he did, the canned Dixieland music shut off, leaving him alone, celebrity of the moment – stranded, like a folksinger in a bar full of pre-pandemic drunks.

          "Isn't this great?" he exclaimed. "Aren't we all great! Isn't this just what we've been waiting for?"

          He stepped back, throwing up his hands as if he'd just given away the fifty thousand dollar check on "You Bet Your Car", never breaking his smile (though the applause was dim, scattered... barely audible, in fact, over the humming or, more accurately, buzzing of several hundred groggy politicians, groggily politicking).

          "How pathetic!" Anne Kazelka determined, chewing on a jam and cinnamon bun she held between the folds of a paper napkin in one fist, a cup of cooling, generic coffee in the other.

          Glenn had tested the strength of the reviewing stand... plywood, but thick enough to lean against comfortably, with little risk of having the whole thing come down. Of course it was empty, save an ancient, six-figure contributor to the cause and her service human. Later... when the Convention got down to the ceremony of ratification of the decisions made in the previous evening's caucuses... the stand, having been erected to hold forty dignitaries, would reasonably be expected to support sixty.

          "Ratso," Glenn admitted, "he does his job. He's an organization man, works behind the scenes; nobody's going to mistake him for a public speaker. So they throw him a bone, maybe his picture gets in the Urinal - Metro section. Somebody local had to be rounded up to introduce the Congressman after his office tweeted the scheduling change, and you know Potter's holding out for Sunday night."

          Henri was trying to tell a joke but it turned out that the sound system hadn't been perfected yet, it would skip out... miss and falter, words and phrases booming forth, then disappearing only to explode, again, like ninja assassins streaking invisibly through time and space, manifesting suddenly behind the hero's back.

          "... here, not only in number but legitimacy. A year ago we... um pmphh... psss... hssss... grist for Doonesbury! Look at us now! Does anyone see Boopsie? Hello... anybody see Boopsie? Where! Nowhere! Eat our dust, Gary Tru... hss, mphh, pfss..."

          And because they were in a good mood, if a little hung over, the seated and incoming delegates finally rewarded Ratso with laughter and a little applause, and a tiny man in coveralls in what served as the orchestra pit when the Symphony came down from the capital three times a year, released five trial balloons... two red, one white, two blue.

          "What's really puzzling is why Morty would keynote so early when... look at this place," Anne frowned. "Most of our people haven't even fallen out of bed yet!"

          "Had to," Glenn replied, flashing an insider's smirk. "The Black Sea blockade bill's for Navalny’s so-called “suicide” in jail coming up in committee this afternoon and, if he's not there, they might lose, or at least deadlock, and he'd be toast with the party. I mean... even more toasted than he is. Soon as he's done, as I've hear from Gruber, Minkovich’s got a private jet waiting for him at the airport and he has to scoot down to Washington for the vote. He'll be back tonight or, at the latest, tomorrow morning..."

          "Which brings us to our keynote speaker!" The sound fizzled slightly, then shot into clarity with a pop! - Ratso backed off, took the nod from the tech booth as an omen, cranked up his smile another few lumens, then stepped forward again. "Three years ago, in Colorado... in the midst of the a deadly plague and the worst undeclared recession in more than a decade, a small band of far-sighted men..."

          "And women!" answered a piercing shriek from the gallery.

          "Exactly!" Ratso recovered with a grin and wave. "They saw the need for an Americanism not of the right, nor left, but forward... for forward policies and... American values! And when perfidious terrorism showed us the time had come to introduce fair immigration reform in Congress, one man... spurning the counsel of those in his own party… one man who advised breaking with the tried and true old paths of compromise, mediocrity and political correctness... carried the day and made possible historic legislation to begin the task of setting these United States, once again, down the straight and narrow path to greatness. Then, despite the prophecies of doomsayers and a caviling plot hatched against him by the extreme Socialist left within his own party primary, he was re-elected last November with... not a plurality... but a full fifty three percent majority over two well-financed and ruthless opponents, Democratic and Republican! Delegates, I give you our keynote speaker, and author of the bill that made sale and possession of those aerosol spray paint cans that deface our citiscapes and destroy the ozone layer prosecutable under Federal RICO statutes, CONGRESSMAN MORTON SCOW, INDEPENDENT, of CALIFORNIA!"

          The applause erupting this time was genuine, the cavernous convention center almost appearing to shrink as seats were filled by the late-arriving, puffy-eyed delegates. Cupping her mouth, Anne bent over to shout into Glenn's ear...

          "What's his district, again?"

          Glenn, also cupping, shouted back "Morty's up in the Silicon Sierras north and east of Sacramento to Reno; used to be nothing but loggers and ski bums, big Republican majorities. Then the whole San Jose/San Francisco Bay went nuts on real estate and companies began moving out their cheaper nerds, the ones who actually did the wiring and soldering, if you catch my gist. Oodles of defense contracting going on up there. All the toxics you can handle and not only from the wildfires... lots of minimum wage assembly – Chinese, Salvadorans and Vietnamese imports, twenty to a trailer. Freezing their asses off while Trump looked the other way until the anti-Pentagon lefties flooded the hills with their own oodles of Alinsky-type organizers, then Morty stuck it to the party after they kicked him out for not wagging his tail so that he escaped clean once the voter reg indictments BillBarr the Barbarian started in order to keep his job sent most of the Democratic establishment out there to the pokey and Team Biden sat on their hands..."

          Scow's hooded eyes drank in the crowd's adulation as though it was a three-dollar bottle of fortified artisanal tea.

          "Thank you!" he waved. "Thank you! God bless us, one and all!"

          "Pip pip," Glenn retorted. "S'cuse me," he said to Anne, "we're supposed to be working, remember, riding herd?  I spy one of my would-be escaping doggies..."

          He blew her a kiss and squirmed off into the swelling crowd, wielding a notebook open to a page with names of the “I” states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, his index finger massaging the print. Words boomed from the speakers mounted at all corners of the arena... wise words, tough words, temperate words. Political words. A vendor passed with red, white and blue popsicles for sale, another with campaign buttons: Tillerman or Parnell. Glenn's quarry was a bespectacled young man with the build of a former defensive lineman beneath a black and white checked jacket, also being carried away with the rapidly-swelling human undertow, and he stepped up his pursuit, dancing through bodies and under waves of words...

          "Hey, you! You!" he called.

          Morton Scow asked the crowd to honor the memories of the Afghan and nine-eleven victims and those shot down in Vegas, Parkland and Newtown (but not Orlando), the dead astronauts and policemen… and then, in deference to African-Americans, a boy shot by the cops in Tulsa for stealing candy… also the earthquake victims in Bulgaria, then the two Supreme Court judges murdered by anti-abortion extremists (whose replacements were still being held up by Republican procedural filibusterers); finally slipping seamlessly into a folksy anecdote: "...which was when I told the Secretary, 'arbitrate, don't annihilate...'"

          "You!" Glenn repeated.

          The young man paused, drawing his thumb up towards his chest... Glenn nodded and caught up with him, glancing at the nametag over his breast pocket, because the Convention credentials slung round his neck like dogtags, shimmered with holograms that obscured their content. Hello - Charles Punick, Leavenworth, Kansas.

          "Charley! Glenn Savitt. From the National? Remember... the reception for the Operations Caucus? You were a delegate there..."

          "Me?" Punick tried to recall. "Well, sort of, sure..."

          "Fine. Fine. Just wanted to be sure how you stand on... you know, this third party thing? Just checking..."

          "Well, yes I, uh... Mr. Savitt... I..."

          "Call me Glenn."

          "OK, Glenn, I really don't know. Every time, it seems, the Democrats lose and complain, and even when they win, something goes wrong. Some scandal! If the Catfish said one or the other... fine, but we seem to have this sort of a dilemma; people are looking to him for a direction, and him still saying he'll do what the Convention wants – I mean, if America wanted more indecision, they’d find another Joe Biden..."

          Glenn placed a benevolent hand on the Kansan's shoulder... Charley had to be... twenty-four, twenty-five? Well, you took Conks where you find them, in the heartland, especially... Glenn admitted... especially in communities where half the jobs depended on jails, public or private.

          "That," he began with a sigh of profundity, "is what makes democracy great. It means letting us follow our own consciences towards a coming to of... well... rational conclusions. Listen to Morty..." he advised, gently turning Punick towards the podium. The figure was tiny, this far away, but the voice, amplified by the black, omnidirectional speakers overhead, thundered magnificently:

          "...the mighty beaches, port and defense installations of the Chesapeake," the Congressman declared, "to the icy shores of Puget Sound came a yearning; a belief, a fundamental urge for things to be better..."

          "Yes, he's a right wonderful speaker. Popular, too," admitted Charlie Punick.

          "And smart," Glenn prompted him. "A smart man, right?"

          "Yes, sir! Smart."

          "Call me Glenn. You see, Charlie, the Congressman's an idealist, but he's practical. A practical idealist! What that means... he has objectives, and has a forum through which to pursue them. The House is a bit like theatre, you do go to the theatre, don't you? Back in Kansas?"

          "Well, sir... I suppose, though only at the school. My boy is only eight years old, but already a regular Hamlet, sir... Glenn... a regular Vincent Price he is.  Was?  Is…"

          "Good. Exactly what I mean," Glenn said, subtracting eight from twenty-five, tossing the numbers aside, as they wouldn't fit - not in the Midwest. "There are players onstage who say what the writers tell them to say, and people hear them. Sometimes they try making up their own lines and that doesn't work so well... like Sean Penn in Baghdad or Vetti Walker in Caracas, remember?  Those whole impeachment debacles?  Then there are the people backstage, and those moving scenery - finally, there's the audience. And then, there are people out in the cold... sure gets cold in a Kansas winter, I'll bet!... people who couldn't get in because they didn't have the foresight to get a ticket before the play sold out. Ain't much fun to be standing outside, without a ticket, is it?"

          "No, sir. Glenn..."

          "In winter, remember..."

          Just then, a florid-faced Jayhawker in crisply pressed camouflage called out "Charlie! Charlie!" and elbowed his way through the people, sticking his hand out at Glenn, then withdrawing it to give the elbow bump… de rigueur since Coronavirus, Epsilon variant.

          "Hank Washburn, Topeka. Say... I remember you from that reception, you're a Beedley boy, ain't you? Saw him pass over thataway. Been filling Charlie's ears with that Socialist Catfish crap, haven't you? No offense, in fact I got to hand it to you city fellas, always thinking ahead. North Kansas is the white man's territory, son, Tillerman turf, but you guys keep pokin' away... what they do Charlie, poke and probe and look for places to slip it into you from behind like some ol’ slippery fish, these city slickers, right?” he snickered. “When you get to be a full delegate, next time out, keep an eye out for this one, Charlie."

          Glenn, dropping his glance, took a longer look at Punick's credentials... they were sort of yellowy, not the silver green that designated full, voting members. Yellow was for alternates, they could go almost everywhere the greens went, and even speak up in the caucuses, but didn't get to vote unless somebody green got sick.

          In other words, a total waste of time.

          "Git along now, boy," Washburn said, "Rinker and Prohl are having a sit down with Rayna, they’ll tell me what to do when they get back, and I’ll tell you. That's some lotta woman, right Glenn?" The Tillerman delegate's eyebrows bounced up and down frumiously, reminding him of a portly Colonel in some Groucho Marx militia. Glenn waved a dispirited farewell and drifted, for the moment, in the push and pull of the Convention crowd, while the familiar tomes in the sonorous tones of Morton Scow resounded...

          "Our boys contest valiantly for American principles in Costa Rica, but what are these principles? Small depositors... looking to their banks and seeing their life's savings taxed away, asking 'why?' Bureaucrats on the table... our family dinner table!... licking themselves like pussies so fat they'll never catch one single, miserable rat! Speaking of which, Zazzbo and Comandante Cuatro, still kicking back and laughing at us, stupid Americans! And the drugs, and crime, race riots, environmental degradation and the new wave of Soviet, Chinese and Iranian aggression... crises that must never be forgotten. The ignorant, the opportunists and, as Jack Parnell calls them, termites... gnawing away at our American values... debt, unemployment, those Wall Street shenanigans… all of these entropic forces, holding the public in their grasp. Who will rise up to break this deathlock?"

          The Congressman stepped back, lifting up his hands in a gesture that a Big Eight referee might make after...what was it, a field goal? A shoveling motion, begging a reply, which thundered forth from the rafters of Masty Hall, perhaps half-filled, now... Glenn admitted, right on cue, right on time to the shoveling of the bulldada...

          "That's right!" Scow cried out, stepping forward again to echo the roar. "We will! We will!"








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