SUNDAY the NINTH - 12:40 PM

          The hubbub, bubbhup, bulhullaboohoo, red and white and blue balloons that bounced off every corner of the great floor of Masty Hall seemed, to Andy, a bizarro echo of the demo outside as he strained to hear particulars on votes quickly ratified by acclamation – return to a military draft, re-affirmation of collusion with the neo-Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua’s Wars on Drugs and Costa Rica, denunciation of morning glories or dentists' gas (or of the both). An Unknown Speechifier introduced two bobbing heads (both long familiar to him, as to any local); Andy's tongue probed dull contours of long-established, near-institutional cavities and he winced at the applause, glancing left to right to see who else might be in on the joke.










"Coupla' crooks!" he hissed to nobody in particular as Mayor Potter gladhanded his anonymous host, then threw back his enormous, ruddy head as if to bray… or vomit.

          "Before our next motion, and relative to the one which we have just passed," declared the shill, "I'd like to re-introduce our host, Mayor Peter Potter, and, with him, the visionary developer Watson Morrow, who has, time and again, provided a profile of capitalism's human face. Guests and Delegates... Mayor Potter!"

          Once the applause had faded, somewhat, Andy motioned to a man wearing the nametag of a Florida alternate. "Pardon me... I don't know the process, but why do we only take yes voice votes?"

          "Oh... that?" The fellow was cheery and, already, just a little beery. "Hey, ever'thin's decided in committees down there," and he pointed to the floor as if to designate the basements of Masty Hall... or, perhaps, a warmer place. "This up here's all for show, you know… them meedjup people with the cameras?” he winked. “Like these last votes... we're going to places, no way do we mess around with the real-estate people, holdin’ all that bailout money to spread around back, or let ourselves get McGoverned… you know?… acid, amnesty, abortion?  Free rent?  That’s why Austin vows to bring federal charges ‘gainst both th’ Wall Street slicks and those crap-on-Wall-Street bums and have them Waikikileaks traitors hauled up before firing squads and Jack, well, Jack hasn’t called him out on it.  Has he?" And he winked, taking a slug of something that looked like Coca Cola in a convention cup, but smelled like something stronger had been added. "S'all been decided beforehand. Hey... 'member when those people said they never really landed on the moon at all; that it was just a buncha actors, pretending in this studio in Hollywood, or maybe in New Mexico? Well, welcome, pod’ner, to th’ moon.  ThHollywood moon!"

          He chuckled and waved and stepped away as Pinhead mounted three steps to the center podium. Andy glanced up, noticing the sophisticated video arrangement... three big screens positioned at corners of the greatroom with a fourth, just behind the podium and easily thirty feet high, reflecting the head and shoulders of the little human below whose red, red nose had been as heavily bleached, sculptured and powdered as Michael Jackson’s had been, back in the day.

          "Thank you! Thank you!" said the apparently sober and heavily mascara’d Pinhead. "What a wonderful crowd you are, and what a wonderful vote for progress and economic development; let's have another big hand for our victorious proponent Roger Washburn and for his loyal opposition against Jack’s nationwide rent controls... we trust... Donna Bat… something. Thank you! Of course it really doesn’t hurt property owners who own in our own freedom-loving state… our rents are too damn low, and they won’t start going up until we bring back jobs, good-paying jobs to the forgotten places… just those vampire donors in New York and California, and they’re all givin’ to the Damnocrats.  Fuck ‘em! And that brings me to news... to wonderful news! Our very good friend, Congressman Scow – he’s OK, he’s from rural California with the raisins and the oranges, the gold and such - Morty will be with us in an hour or two.  He's flying back from Washington where he attended the signing ceremony of the bipartisan Neighborhoods Recovery Act. Folks, they don't dare give credit where credit is due, but we are turning the corner on homelessness and the environment, and the Coalition for a New Consensus is in the vanguard of both battles. Brings to mind what Jack Parnell warns us about in that Biosphere over there... stop paying attention and you will find people being run over by the crazy ants and morning glories - not to mention that Q-Anon Speaker as followed Nancy the witch Pelosi and her failed impeachment witchnesses, as took over from the handsome Republican guy who looked sorta like Eddie Munster, grown up, the one who failed to make Vice President?"  And Potter sneezed, as if to consign all of those obscenities to medical history.  "Which also calls to mind the esteemed sachem of Tammany, George Washington Plunkitt, on reform parties as put their principles above practicalities... they're morning glories, as wither up by noon? Well, folks, this Coalition may have its share of morning glories, but we're the biospheric sort, as have mutated and adapted to reality.  Carnivahcunieferous plants!  Unlike Ross Perot and John Anderson and Ralph Nader, unlike… even… my dear, dear friend, the once and future President Trump whom, I might add, just might be considering throwing his support and resources our way after he’s buttfuck… whoops! stiffled by the greasy old party hacks backing the Floridian or the one-eye guy next primary season.  Donald’s a businessman, he might do business for a few small… heh heh… considerations after having to sell his Washington hotel to Paris Hilton and that crowd to fight off the persecutions of Hunter Biden’s stepdad… we're hungry, we're stubborn and we're not going anywhere except straight to the top of the heap, and th’ Donald is going straight back to Marra Lago come November because either Jack Parnell or Austin would make a better President.   The Democrats?  Who gives a… well… little thing.  And, now, I want my good friend, and yours… who, by the way, is a better real estate developer than Trump because he makes money, Watson Morrow… come on up Watty and feed us the details!  "

          Andy checked his watch, then elbowed his way through the hawkers and gawkers, towards the Polish Pup stand, keeping an eye on Morrow over one of the corner videoscreens. "NRA, make my day!  Watson Moor… shoot the poor!" one of the vendors with a table of CD software muttered caustically. "Negro Removal Act! Catfish screen-saver, sir?"

          "These Federal funds secured by an unprecedented bipartisan coalition of very nervous men, delegates, including seven hundred sixty million dollars to be assigned to this state over an eight year period," said the developer, "would enable America to move beyond effects and deal directly with the two, interlocked root causes of homelessness. And what are these? On the supply side... deteriorated and environmentally unsound buildings unfit for habitation at any price for reason of being tenanted by neglectful people, people without hope, without gainful employment and without the generational… and no, I’m not talking about race… the generational moral underpinnings required to be successful in life. This economic stimulus bill provides money for acquisition and demolition of these lead and asbestos-ridden slums, special eminent domain enhancements and subsidies which are the proper provenance of government in order to redevelop new, mixed-income condominiums and rental units with the participation and energy only the private sector can bring..."

          And then Andy spotted a clique of Conk-wannabees lurking about Burt Weston at the Polish Pup stand like bees around a bush; these including Emil Hill, a liberal Dean from the U. and a woman Andy recognized as the director of the campus rape prevention program. The year before… prior to the Democrats’ disastrous midterm contests… he'd let her send students with clipboards into the Sanctuary to ask its women questions, but enough of them had complained about the Martians, cats and the NSA and wouldn't answer coherently... the project had been terminated by mutual, if tense, consent and the respondents given new toothbrushes. Emil waved him over.

          "On the social end," the developer continued, "the homeless will be obliged to keep up their end of the contract with a society many have spent years, if not decades, in defiance of. They will be up at the crack of dawn Mondays through Saturdays, off to work in the private or the public sector after a healthful breakfast and back to their barracks by six, lights out at ten PM… on Saturday night, they will be allowed one light beer or glass of wine – no drugs except duly prescribed psychiatric meds, even where some of those foolish states have made reefers and pain pills legal.  Sundays will be dedicated to mandatory church attendance… Catholic, Protestant, Jewish even Islamic services, chooser’s choice and then, in the afternoons, furthering their educations.  All recipients must consent to psychological testing, urinalysis, and agree to random visitation, including bed checks to discourage illicit sexual activities as will prevent us as from being overrun with the little domestic bastards as tough on the border policies will shut down the human tidal wave of caravans. Those with children will be provided day care referrals, transportation to neighborhood schools and... should it prove necessary... there will be liaison with foster care and permanent adoption agencies, not to mention compulsory military educations for at-risk pre-teens.  In the few, we hope, extreme cases… might need a little female plumbing surgery to slow down that torrent of welfare brats, heh heh!  During the daytime hours, clients with children will also be compelled to attend vocational training, take private sector or public infrastructure jobs or... where these cannot be found... interim and or auxiliary replacement positions in the public sector..."

          "Emil, hi... you're the fellow Anne..."

          "Yeah," Weston answered, "I've been appointed host committee zookeeper.

          Andy jerked his head towards the podium. "Sounds like your Coalition's bringing back the poorhouse..."

          "And busting the Democratic Party’s stronghold of State and City unions in the process. Morning glories! I give this bunch four... maybe six years maximum before they get swallowed up, digested and excreted," the old Wobbly spat, “and, probably, by Cruziero or little Marco’s Rubio or that other busing guy from Miami Republicans, not the Democrats; altho’, after the most senile administration since Woodrow Wilson, who knows? They've pissed off too many people, too fast. I've wasted most of my life pitching alternatives to the cynics who come out on top every time... I ain't sorry, but I'm not saying I'd not look seriously if some other movement came down the road.  The one thing Parnell got right is that third parties don’t cut it, you need a third, a fourth, a fifth and… maybe… more?  And then you wind up with a brokered selection like over in Europe or what them Don Jones people say almost happened in sixteen – not to mention all the coronacheating last time out.  Harris?  Some old codger like me - nobody’s afraid of… Al Gore?  Bernie, again, if that sex thing doesn’t sink him in the primaries?  Some doctor?  Bloomberg?  An actor?  Meanwhile, and until that happens, I've got a job to do."

          Andy let his eyes drift upwards to Pinhead's face on the screen. He and Watson Morrow were tag-teaming the Coalition delegates, feeding off each other... Andy reckoned... like a pair of swollen leeches sharing bodily fluids, then squirting them over the vox populi. "Isn't that great?" the Mayor prompted more applause for Morrow. "Millions in good, Federal money earmarked for parts of this city... some less than two miles distant... that the greatest stock market boom in modern history has left behind. We are ashamed of our blighted districts... but we are proud of our incipient gateway status, our prospects as a technical and financial service hub and, of course, as the home of a great University whose genetics and biotech laboratories are included among those most improved in the entire region. And, of course, our own Fightin’ Eagles! How 'bout them Eagles!"

          "Jack Parnell's in denial if he thinks Pinhead can seed the East End with luxury condos and subsidize the U's germ farms, too!" opined the Dean.  "People with advanced degrees can think, and thinkers draw conclusions from prevailing wind patterns.  Worse than what that volcano did to them Hawaiian power plants with its toxic gases!  It’d be that Japanese nuclear earthquake or the toxic clouds in Beijing all over again, only viral, this time, and in the original sense.” 

And the Mayor's too full of himself,” interrupted the University woman, “denying that one in every eight American women is or is likely to be raped, abused or battered as a consequence of professional sports. The sooner we get rid of this bunch and ban those Fighting Eagles, the sooner we can vote in a real alternative, a political party by, of and dedicated to the patriarchy’s victims..."

          "First things first!" said Emil, but was prevented from declaring what these were by a tall, leggy brunette in a light green knit dress that ran out of knit six inches above her thigh-high, rat-stabbing hooker boots.  As she planted a wet kiss on the lawyer's chubby cheek, the academic’s lip curled in disgust.  From the other side, Anne marched up, leading a black man built like a fireplug under his labor union's silk jacket and, also, a distracted-appearing Leo Goldman.

          “My P.I. buddy blew me off,” he muttered to Andy.  “Thus… Emil!” he pointed before Morrison could crack wise over the literalism of his remarks.  “And his posse…”

          "OK folks, sorry for the mystery, I hope that it's made your day a little more interesting," Anne began. "And, if not, the hell with it. Ratso... uh, Mr. Ratzelkreuz, the local CNC director, has always supported increasing the population of host-city superdelegates, so I've persuaded a convention caucus to approve six local representatives. Uh... are you Ms. Hovey?" she asked the brunette who'd stepped back from Emil.

          "Sorry! I'm Bambi... Bambi Bonzano..." she added, blinking her Tammy Faye made-up eyes. "I dance.  At..."

          "I'm Susan Hovey," declared the rape prevention official, glancing at Emil's companion as if she were only a step up from a football-playing fratboy on the evolutionary ladder.

          "Good!" Anne pretended to ignore the bad feline vibes. "Good!  This way!" The Dean dropped away with a nod and Deanly wave; Anne directed the rest through the crowd, through an exit and into a corridor. There was a security station there, manned by a bored-looking rent-a-cop, and Anne signed for all of them to be questioned, groped and sent through.

          "You'll be meeting with a Hector Nescoso, the statewide Chairman… he gets along with Pinhead… and Matty Gacula, the Regional Director; he doesn't. This is important... don't say anything!  Matty and I will do the talking. You'll be asked if you support the minority resolution to seat challenge delegations. Say that you do. These are people like you from the Midwest, ordinary folks who want to do right. Hector will try to confuse you once he realizes what's up... remember, he's part of the corrupt machine that’s trying to steer this movement in the wrong direction. If you're directly forced to answer with more than your name and vote, talk bullshit... America and democracy are good, blah blah!  President Biden was a decent man sidetracked by age and a Republican Congress after ’22; Trump had some good ideas, but broke his promises to the working and middle classes and then just went crazy on the Capitol riots, so we’re more unequal than ever.  Osama was a jerk but he gets props for killing Obama.  Or no, wait… the other way round. That's what it's really about.  Viva la France, solidarity with Ukraine and fight climate change, too.  And the terrorists.  Trust me... you'll be helping us to wash clean some very dirty linen."

          "Some very powerful linen..." Emil mumbled.

          "I made clear my intentions over the phone to you this morning," Anne snapped back. "If you have second thoughts, you are free to leave."

          "I'm sorry," Emil shook his head, "I can't do this. But like you explained, you get the same effect you want if we vote five to one, and it gives your delegation at least the appearance of fair selection..."

          Anne squinted. "Well, I can, but..."

          "Ma'am, I have my reasons, which I'd rather not go into.  Look it this way," he tried to spin the matter, "a unanimous vote would raise eyebrows.  Maybe they couldn't get the supplementary host delegation overturned, but it would mean trouble for you down the line. If it's a mix, even with only one dissenting vote for their side, they still know what's going on, but can't really cry foul.  Fair and balanced… like Fox News! My li’l chickadee here... she votes with you."

          The dancer, Bambi, blew a wide pink bubble of gum and popped it, nodding.

          “What does the Fox say?” Emil smiled, tunelessly.  Tagguts fiderychTagguts fiderychTagguts fider-iddy-diddy-daddy-soddy-doddy-poh-de-richy rich… that’s what the Fox says…”

          "Well!" Anne almost shrieked, then glanced down at one of those devices that could be any combination of wristphone, camera or calculator as her fingers stabbed and calculated. "Well! Alright, I was wrong. Five to one... alright..."

          Emil, whom Andy realized was already snookered, nodded his satisfaction. Anne than breezed through a summary of the resolution that Andy tried following but gave up on... it was passed around for only the few seconds each needed to initial. Five yea, one nay. "It's for civil rights," Anne repeated when Susan Hovey held on to it longer than necessary.

          "Your people will probably find a way to get me fired," she shook her head, but then initialed "yea". "If the U. paid employees what they were worth, I wouldn't be doing this, but my wife and I have already decided to retire to Vermont. This city's a moral and ethical sewer that’s been losing population since the fifties... and its remaining cretins don't have much on the ball either,” she pointed at the stage. “Especially its leadership, and those dullards with the misfortune to have received higher educations, such as we provide them with."

          "I hear that!" Anne smiled. She took back the resolution, distributed snappy little membership cards with microchips instead of photographs... Andy briefly noted that his was backdated three months. Then, the contingent was herded down a stairwell and onwards to a small animal-ish-smelling room where three men waited, two smoking nervously, throwing down their cigarettes as she entered without knocking. "This is Paul Rinker," she introduced the plump nonsmoker hastily, "this is Hector Nescoso and over here, the big fellow is Matty Gacula. Gentlemen, these are the local host delegates... Emil Hill, Bambi BozeBonzano?  Andy Morrison, Rafe Cutler, Susan Hovey and uh..."

          "Leo. Leo Goldstein."

          Andy mimed and grunted through the handshakes. Gacula, in a rumpled tweed jacket, jeans and workman's boots squeezed his hand harshly, testing macho. Rinker, in his nondescript gray suit and red tie served up a dead fish. The natty Nescoso patted him on the back and smiled. "Haven’t we met before?  Nice to see you. Really, nice!"

          Andy nodded.

          "Anne assures me you're all City residents and paid-up CNC members, so I won't ask for ID," Gacula said. "As you may know, we tally up our votes beforehand. Cuts down on the excitement, but I think you'd realize that we're making powerful enemies, enemies who'd exploit any perception of dissent to destroy us all, no matter what our position on this or that factional dispute. Which brings me to what I've been told... that you're all in favor of seating the challenge delegation..."

          "Cut it out, Matty..." Nescoso joked.

          "Aren't you?" the big man continued, nodding towards Anne as Hector Nescoso approached her warily.

          "That's not exactly true," Anne replied. Nescoso stopped, stepped back and started to say something but Anne cut him off. "Actually the vote is five in favor, one opposed..."

          "I gave it my best..." Emil sighed. Something brief and poisonous flashed through the space between he and Hector Nescoso.

          Andy could almost hear the calculators calculating behind Nescoso's eyes. "Wait a minute, this is outrageous! I'm not sitting still for this," the standing Conk added as the lemons and cherries and pentacles finally rattled into place. Leaping forward, he seized Rafe Cutler by the lapels of his union jacket, blowing steam downwards into his face. "Do you know what you're doing? I can have you and all of yours broken!"

          "Paul," Anne said, "I don't think we should allow delegates to be intimidated..."

          Rinker took a light blue handkerchief out of his jacket and began to wipe his face, which had suddenly paled and moistened. Before he could reply, Matty Gacula tapped Hector on the shoulder like the jock cutting in on a smartass Class President trying to steal a cha cha with the prom queen. "I'd let him go, Hec... first, he'd beat the shit out of you, and I probably wouldn't call security until he was more or less finished. Then, they'd probably cry racism and throw your paleface in the jug. Rayna's sending you a message, boy, you've just been shut down."

          Nescoso's less-than-swarthy features blackened with rage, but he took his hands off Cutler. "Boy?  You won't get away with this! Any of you!" Noticing Andy, he all but spat... "I don't even know what you are, check that: you're nothing! A bum! I'll bet you don't even know what you're voting on!"

          "These delegates don't have to answer to you," Anne quickly retorted. "Here are their initials, that's all! Mr. Morrison you don't have to say a word."

          "That ever stopped me?" Andy shot back with such force that Hector Nescoso stepped back. "These guys from... wherever they're from... they're just a bunch of ordinary folks like me, looking for a little justice in the world. Why not let 'em stay? What are they... bums, too? Besides, if I had any doubts before, you've settled the matter for me. So now, I'll be going."

          "We're all going!" Anne slapped the resolution, with initials, into Matty's palm like a subpoena. "Twenty for, seventeen opposed – the motion passes.  Don't do anything stupid," she added, but... as Andy noticed... the charge was addressed to Rinker more than to Hector.

          The glowering Nescoso refocused his wrath on Emil Hill. "You're not fooling anybody! You're finished, here… here, and in the capital. Ordinary folks... Tillerman militia creeps, Palinettes, white supremacists, Uncle Ben Carson, over there!" he spat, with a nod towards Rafe Cutler. "And you..." he menaced Anne as she opened the door and fresh air tumbled through the fetid basement room, "you're dead! Remember that!” he warned, aiming a thumb and index finger like a pistol.  “Not fired, not blacklisted. Dead!"

          "You've just committed a crime, Hector," Anne replied, "a terroristic threat. In front of eight witnesses, too. We have nothing more to say to one another... take it up with Rayna."

          And Nescoso took a deep breath, summoning back all of his vanished charm as Emil signaled that he had to stay behind. "Hiding behind nine-eleven, the Capitol and St. Louis riots and the RPA now, are we? Indeed!" Nescoso smiled, venomously. "Indeed!" And the last sight Anne and Andy had of him was as his old, slick, patronizing self again, listening thoughtfully, hand on chin, watching as Emil's hands moved and his mouth flapped, words spilling out in torrents of desperate, lawyerish futility as Bambi stood beside him shivering, clutching her knockoff designer purse tightly as if the Conk intended to snatch it. 









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