SUNDAY the NINTH - 12:18 PM

          Outside Masty Hall, Jorge Gamba's voice... the Arias jungle-tape having been played in its baleful, insurrectional entirety... vied with an earnest folksinger at the opposite end of the plaza.

          "And what is the nature of an intervention such as makes even men of peace take up arms in utter, absolute disgust? It comes at the so-called invitation of a corrupt dictatorship that lawlessly overthrew the last bastion of democracy in Central America. Should we extend such invitation to United Nations peacekeeping forces working with these same dictators? Let's hear you... Viva Arias, down with Intervention… down with mining the President’s electric fence across the Rio Grande! Viva Comandante Cuatros! Viva Arias..."










          The crowd... at least that portion of it gathered near the speakers' stage... took up the chant. The zone of dissonance between the musical and the political... unfair at its base, owing to the stronger PA system on the folksinger's stage... took place about two thirds of the way back from the latter, though a swarming mass of undecided millenials milled between the factions. The rain still held back, caucusing in the purple clouds scooting across the sky, but the wind continued to intensify. Leaflets, paper cups and plates, bunting and trash... all would occasionally fly by Andy and Leo Goldman as they huddled, inconspicuously – as they hoped - beneath a tree.

          "I can call this P.I. that I know, if he's in," Leo added. "Realistically he'd be out here. Probably around one of the anti-JEDI, anti-Siti tables... he’s a sort of a Libertarian… but he'd still want money..." voice dropping like the Dow after the new Fed Chairman had announced plans to cut back on the money supply…

          "Well, you'd have to find somebody to front it," Andy said firmly.

          "According to what I've been hearing all day, you're supposed to be the one flashing that big bankroll you stole from the people."

          "That part of it I've had tracked down," Andy smiled grimly. "It was Richard Reid.  Dude can't help drinking from the Man’s toilets... I haven't made my mind up on whether he's a provocateur. More likely,  just a common asshole."

          "He's no government agent, if that's what you mean. Those people have strict orders never to assault their targets unless they've been authorized to kill them. He could have goaded you on, provoked attack and then he could have had you taken to court..."

          "Like Disson..."

          "Exactly. No... you've definitely been infiltrated, but it would be somebody more subtle, someone you'd never expect. Somebody with juice to get into Disson's office and, quote unquote, borrow his fax machine.  Faxes!... this fuckin’ city can’t afford to crawl out of the 20th century!  With whatever you've been doing with the Conks, it's understandable that most outside people would think the rat was you. You've been here forever, so people don't know or care about your credentials. An infiltrator would have been placed in advance, months ago, maybe, but, with the University, people coming and going, it's a perfect place to set up all kinds of double agents."

          "Then fuck all this James Bond shit! Too late! You did talk to Anne... right?  I mean, what the fuck? Shit down here'll play out on its own; I'm not needed anymore and she told me she could get six of us in as voting so-called host delegates, in order to get this more progressive entitlement platform passed – as she puts it.  Might be true, might not.  So if I'm as unprincipled as people think, why not go inside?"

          "It's never that simple," Leo warned, shaking his head.

          "I just hustle details. This..." and he waved his hand from the political stage to the folksinger across the plaza, "...is nothing but a bunch of mostly polite, white college students and unpolite street people on bad drugs, plus some out-of-town sixties leftovers crashing at Malik’s or quadrupling up in AARP discount motels enjoying the speeches, music and the weather..."

          "It's windy!" Leo objected. "And nothing but the same old factions, talking to themselves!"

          "I think it's rather nice that it all separated out... there's not much politics in the music, hardly any art in the politics, and the media will probably inflate the size of the crowd because it's strung out... looks larger than it is, I mean.  And if people who gave up struggling for power get to pretend that somebody cares what they think, more power to ‘em.  Which might or might not help or hurt the Conks and, by now, I don't really care. The more things get fucked-up, the better.  If we'd secured our permits two months ago, it would have looked a little more professional, maybe drawn another thousand people, but same difference. Thing that bothers me is what were they worried about? I mean... the system's going to survive these speeches, it survived the sixties, when people mattered, the eighties, when they didn’t and now the teens where the honkies struck back, and it'll certainly survive the Coalition.  Third parties always run out of gas before November.  It’s like the system won’t tolerate even the puniest positive statement of resistance – like the whole country, top to bottom, is demonically possessed.  Like Zambia, or Syria, or Burma..."

Myan…” Leo started to correct, then gave up the pretense and both of them watched a faceless, genderless spectre in a broken, taped up styrofoam lobster costume stumble past, blown by the pitiless wind.

"Maybe Osama was right…” Andy ventured.

          "Well, he was a role model for the communities of color, even if he tried to tell everybody what they wanted to hear and wound up worse than Carter…”

          “I said OSAMA, not Obama, you fuckin’ lawyer.  That guy – still alive in the hearts and minds of true believers – releasing doctored cassette tapes, riding the hills on a white camel or Cadillac with his faithful sidekick, Elvis.  Hey… my work's done, and I'm still curious about the circus inside – even if the President’s kids shot all those elephants. So shoot me..."

          And, as he said this, Rael circled the tree to interrupt them.

          "Andy, you better get the fuck out of here! There's this guy looking to kill you! Eddie says he was some friend of Paulie's, blames you for killing him. Tall guy, Ted... Fred... had a gun?  Shot up the Sanctuary but he didn't hit anybody except Eddie's TV, and that was already broken. Is Paulie really dead?"

          "'Fraid so. But I didn't do it," Andy swore, "dumb motherfucker hanged himself in jail. Pussy!  Not that people out here give a rat's ass about truth, anymore."

          "Well, now... as there seem to be at least some people around who would take you up on your offer," Leo suggested, "it might not be a bad idea to go inside awhile, out from this idiot wind..."

          "Eddie call the cops?" When Rael nodded, Andy shrugged his surrender. He and Leo dove into the wind, circling round back of the music stage towards the street, where running verbal battles flared between surly, middle-aged Conks... most of whom were there either to listen to the music, jabber away on cellphones or catch a smoke away from tobacco-free Masty Hall... and mostly young, mostly disheveled protesters.

          "That Catfish is an agent of the Trilateral Commission," harangued one of the outliers, a stocky, middle-aged man in a blue satin jacket with a union emblem on it. "He's another JFK alright... the JFK of Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Of the mob, Dominican Republic and Toots Shor!"

          "Hey dude," the tallest of the delegates replied, "don't spend the rest of your life on drugs. Jack hates Trilats, besides, what's wrong with eating out once in a while? Barmaids and busboys need jobs, too! You want to protest something, how about the Hilton jacking up prices, charging four bucks for these little bags of ice. We're not all billionaires..."

          "Too bad," smirked a kid in a brown circle-A shirt, "you're just the millionaire motherfuckers who want to make cigarettes and Diet Coke illegal!"  And, as he still could, he took a hit off the former, in his right hand, and a swallow of the latter, in his left.

          Andy and Leo crossed the street under the baleful glare of the police, then followed some laughing, gesticulating Conks, flashing their passes to the security guards manning the sawhorses, then encountered another team at the entrance to Masty Hall, festooned with signs saying "No Cans, No Bottles, No Outside Foods! No Alcohol, No Illicit Drugs, No Cameras. No Recording Devices. No Weapons, No Pets (the appendage “except seeing-eye dogs with pre-issued permits” having been XXXed out after the Amtrack service-dog bombings). Have a nice Convention!"

          "Who are these Sominex people?" Andy wondered aloud as a sniffing-nose dog on a leash sniffed his shoes, sneezed, and moved on to the ACLU attorney. "All they have to offer are guilt, jails and more rules and regulations."

          "Some, I suspect, really believed in a better world, once upon a time," Leo replied. "I'm not complaining... some of them also give us money..."

          They fell into another security line behind a woman carrying a cake in an open cardboard container. The tap-dancing Catfish with wide moustaches, top hat and firearm dangling between its fins was etched into the white frosting in blood-red icing, probably strawberry, Andy presumed, or raspberry... underneath was this inscription: Greetings from the Virginia Delegation – Continental Self-Defense Association! "Sorry, ma'am," a guard told her, "we can't allow that thing inside."

          "But it's only a cake..."

          "We're sorry, ma'am," echoed another, a woman, "it's security.  Nine-eleven.  Vegas.  St. Louis."

          She motioned to yet another guard who drew on a pair of latex gloves, picked up the cake, broke it into several pieces so as to find what was not inside, then brushed the remains into a trash container. The woman then passed to credentials check, where a uniformed female body search officer frisked her with a look of pure hatred.  “I thought this shit would be over once they shot the bastard…”

          "You thought wrong," the guard smirked.  "Newtown.  St. Louis.  Brownsville…"  His smile disappeared, his voice turning stony.  "I went to training camp with the agent that got shot in Minnesota… that makes three.  Somebody’s gotta pay…"

          "Look, before I surrender my phone, I'd better try to get to my P.I. friend outside now, so I won't have to go through all of this twice," Leo suddenly demurred with a haste that implied that he held a joint or two in his wallet. "Anne said one o'clock, right?"

          "Yeah, by the Polish Pup stand, wherever that is. You know?" he asked the lady officer peeling off her latex gloves.

          "Shut the fuck up and bend over!"

          "Hospitality!" Leo cocked his head. "I'll find it. See you then."

          The guards ran Andy's pass and drivers’ license through a scanner that scrolled out a screenful of serial numbers. Then he proceeded to the body search station, frisked by a beefy, bearded rent-a-cop who patted his butt, squeezed his balls, winked and told Andy that his pass only extended to the galleries and specially marked blue areas on the floor.

          Then he was released to enter into the tumultuous cavern that was Masty Hall; the rent-a-cop manning the scanner picking up a telephone.

          "Sir? One of those numbers you had a trace put on has just entered the convention. Badge 60725 – it’s legal, but the name on his driver’s license is on the watch list. Yes, sir, I don’t think it’s a forgery – why would a terrorist carry forged ID that marked him as a terrorist?  No, I'm to be relieved in half an hour. Tewkesbury, sir. Yes. Inform you at once if he leaves the hall. Yes, I'll tell him. Provide a full description. Yes, sir... you can count on me, Al!"  









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