SUNDAY the NINTH - 4:28 PM

          B-124, beneath Masty Hall, differed little from the gray, windowless chamber where Anne had so recently pulled her coup... it seemed, to Andy, a storage room for surplus school furniture. Now Morton Scow, Rinker, Rayna Finch, a policeman, two unsmiling security guards and three unidentified men... one spit-polish clean, the other two sweaty and rumpled... waited for Anne's arrival, rubbing their knuckles and tugging at their collars.      








          Also present, jammed into a little junior high school plastic chair (with attached tray), was a sweaty, manifestly terrified Tom Beedle.

          "Annie!" he cried, as soon as she and Andy passed through the doorway. "Thank God... you're here! You wouldn't believe the things these people say about me! Lies! Lies!"

          "Sorry, Tom. They're not really lies, are they? I found out part of your scheme with the Mayor... Andy here and his folks found out more. The rest... why don't you tell us?"

          Tom shook his head, denying. "That sharp-dressed man is from the FBI, the other's from the FEC," he pointed. "The other one is a reporter... they hate Pinhead! They'll say anything! You know me... I've raised millions for worthy causes. I'm on the board of Southern California's Baby Claire Foundation. I haven't done anything..."

          "On the contrary, Mr. Beedle," said the tidy fellow, who'd already flashed his FBI agent badge to Anne and Andy, "I'd like to ask you about the movement of certain people and monies across state lines. But, first, I think the Congressman ought to explain."

          "Well, to begin with," Morton Scow said, with outrage that struck Andy as having been rehearsed, well-rehearsed and probably before a magic mirror, "you've been ripping us off. Stealing Rayna’s money, keeping revenue from those benefits that were supposed to go to the CNC for yourself?  But that's only the tip of the iceberg, isn't it? Gotta hand it to you, Tom, yours is an exemplary nonpartisan approach to corruption."

          "I don't know what you're talking about..." Beedle fumed.

          "Oh, cut the crap, Tom!" shot back the Congressman. "Let's start with the CNC funds diverted to investments in Cato and Peppermill Properties via – what’s that place people use now that the Caymans are hot… Martinique?... as well as any number of like enterprises here and about. I take this personally. I'm breaking my ass in Washington to wrangle a little shelter for people who can't afford it and you, Morrow and Pinhead are not only setting things up to grab major fistfuls of the loot; you've cut in our Republican governor. What does Drummond bring to the table?"

          "Ain't telling!" Tom Beedle smirked, his pretense at innocence flown. "Those were investments!  Watson Morrow's the CNC's state treasurer and we were only planting seeds to start the money growing... ask him!  I want a lawyer…"

          The FBI man's radio crackled, he put it to his ear, nodded, answering only "Roger!" Putting it down, he said: "there's trouble outside. But Masty Hall's too well defended, so the germs are moving into the East End."  Turning to Beedle, he added, “you say something?”

          "That's where Peppermill's been buying up its properties," piped up the shabby old dude Beedle had referred to as a reporter; the same moax who'd conversed with Andy and the lawyers in City Hall.

          Morton Scow gave the fixer a withering glare. "I've underestimated you? Now, if there was violence... a riot, and property damage... well, I'll bet Peppermill's ghetto holdings are insured, no doubt. Over-insured? And that anybody left who doesn't get burned out or looted will be really happy to get anything for their properties, right? So Peppermill and Cato get plenty of cleared ground at a bargain price, covered by the Coalition, and government money from good ol’ Uncle Joe in Washington and our Republican legislature in Cap City for redevelopment... but you wouldn't know anything about that, Tom, would you? I mean... how shitty can human beans become?"

          Rayna interrupted his train of accusations. "Folks, I've seen enough. I have to introduce the Catfish as soon as Doctor Windy up there winds down. Paul, Morty, I promise we'll work through things fully now that this sleazy little episode's out in the open. I only note the co-operation of a nominally Democratic mayor with a Republican governor," she nodded towards the reporter. "Use that as you will..."

          "Not to mention the Coalition's own fundraiser..." Anne couldn't help but add.  “Doesn’t Morrow still sign the checks?”

          "You don't have anything on me. Nothing!" Beedle insisted. "But if you're going to detain me any longer, I demand the presence of an attorney!"

          Scow nodded with a dreamy smile. At his gesture, one of the security men opened the door to B-124 to admit a jaunty Emil Hill, followed by Tony Manuzzo, combing his hair as he walked. Rayna slipped out, after bussing the actor on the cheek and a last selfie glimpse into her pocket mirror, pink-sheathed hips twisting to fit through the door.

          "My hair. My hair!" was the last thing Andy heard her say. The cosmetics queen leveled a withering stare at Anne. "It's awful... why didn't anybody tell me?"

          "Here's a lawyer," the Congressman told Beedle, jerking a thumb at Emil.

          "Hill? He's a crook... works for Pinhead?"

          "Thanks for the compliment," Emil said, "and the confession. Pinhead thinks as you do, by the way. When I mentioned to him a few things I'd found out by looking up this, that and the other, he sort of took me into the family and explained a few of your missing details. Nasty! Even a cockroach like me has things he won't do, not even for six hundred shares of Peppermill. And Martinique and the Caymans… they’re bad news... you want real security, shoulda laundered your transactions through Seatopia IV.  Or Malta.  I was wired, Tom. No thanks to these two," Hill added, with a wave towards Anne and Andy, "who almost got me... and themselves... knocked off for their troubles."

          "Ain't over, yet!"  Beedle snarled defiantly, then... seeing the doleful expression on the face of the actor who'd been his most lucrative client... lay his head down on the kiddie desk like a kindergartner taking a nap, half groaning, half sobbing – obscenities dribbling through his lips. There was a knock, which the police sergeant answered. Four more armed, uniformed security people stood in the hall, along with two tall men in the gray overcoats and black shoes of Federal agents.

          Scow jabbed a finger at them. "Needless to say, things might get hairy over the next few hours, what with local police, National Guard and UNAPISSERs sorting things out... plus God knows whatever creatures from Austin's little militia black book that Tom's been holding out from us.  It’s even worse… some of this germ’s creatures have orders to do the burning and the looting to clear ground for Peppermill…"

          "Well Mr. Beedle," inquired the sergeant with a sour glance towards Andy, who’d recognized him from the Hall of Justice, "is he correct? You seem to have imported a lot of trouble into our little burg. If there are people out there under your control who might... might be capable of causing injuries or property damage, you'd be held responsible. Hollywood lawyer, eh?"

          Scow nodded.

          "Big house, car, trophy wife… mistress?" Again, Scow nodded. "Might have enough worth the taking. Though if any harm came to our officers, I might add he'd be responsible for that, too. Too bad they don't have the electric chair anymore," he added, "melt enough lard off this asshole to fry up a whole mess o’fish!"

          Beedle looked up. "Alright, there is a man, name of Geiger..."


          "Ivona Hotel. Room six oh six," Beedle added. "He's professional..."

          "Then he'll know how to behave like one," the FBI man suggested.

          "Tony, I'd take a long look at your contract and your investments," Morton Scow gently told the excited actor. "The Caymans! How Twentieth Century!  Sheesh! Coming?"

          "If I’m going to run for Lieutenant Governor of California, after the recalls,” Manuzzo worried on his way out the door, “shouldn’t I lay off, a little, on the Grecian formula?”

          “Maybe, kid.  Just don’t lose the Rogaine…”

          “Is there a thing such as Captain Governor I could run for, instead?” Tony queried, and then both were gone.

          Anne, Andy and Paul Rinker followed the Congressman and actor back into the corridor, with Tillerman's cliches still resounding out through the mounted loudspeakers.

          "... waiting, watching and waiting down there until Speedy Gonzalez down there gives the signal to swarm across the Rio Grande. People think Trump’s wall would’ve stopped em?  Forgot about those li’l things called ladders.  Control of America's borders through mining and electrification is not racism! Why, I've been told that patriots in Idaho and in Montana are watching the Canadian border this very minute... protecting our children from Middle Eastern terrorists, illegal drugs and adulterated prescription medicines, and their working mothers and fathers from illegal Chinese imports passed through by that crooked boy toy in Montreal..."

          "Toronto, jackhole!  Or what’s that other cold place… the little one, the capital?  Oughta get that fat movie maker or those guys, kids... made that South Park movie against Canadians! Get the rights to that blame song for the duration," Scow suggested to Paul Rinker, who actually took out his e-notebook and politely asked for names and numbers. "Unbelievable!" the Congressman said, instead. "Un-fucking-believable! Tom sold us out for money. Not some cockeyed ideal, like every other lunatic in this asylum, but for money! Maybe Rayna was right, maybe we're already just another part of the system... you!" he pointed at Andy, "do you know how that deal would've gone down?  Pinhead would’ve had Governor Drummond relocate that shelter outside city limits, miles from the nearest bus stop, given you new blankets… tell the Ind… Native Americans… about going viral!... and, maybe, a salary for keeping your mouth shut. Unincorporated land. That's how we do it to the waste humanity in California... ship 'em out into the burned out forests or the desert.  Slab Cities out there for Trailervilles as never got built.  Halfway to Parnellvilles already! So... what would it have taken for you to bite?"

          "Congressman," Andy shook his head, "no matter how that deal went down, more people would keep losing their homes and fall into your system. The system's made to degrade. I'd never support that!"

          "Then you're even more of an idiot than you look!" Scow seemed to be thinking, then offered his hand. Andy simply stared at it. "Good for you, boy! But it doesn't matter, you're in the loop now, the rot’ll start from your head down just as quickly as it did with the rest of us... sooner, you haven't been fortified with MSG.  Money, sex and guns!  Trust me! Listen to that act! Place generates enough hot air to float a whole fleet of Texas zeppelins!"

          He pointed upwards to a loudspeaker, through which the voice of Rayna Finch came booming. "Thank you! Thanks, Austin for your wonderful words of inspiration! I’ll bet that Donald Trump’s rug is hovering three inches above his scalp about now, worried that his comeback is endangered; the Democrats?  They’re in the water closet, doing that watery whizzbang thing all over themselves while the President of these United States hides in the White House basement.  So let's hear it for the next Republican nominee for President of the United States! Terrific!"

          "You work for them!" Andy scolded as Anne lagged behind the two men in suits; Rinker, inclining his head towards the Congressman, who jabbed the back of his hand furiously with an index finger.

          "Glenn works for the Coalition," Anne corrected. "I work for Rayna "

          "Something happened the other night," Andy pressed. "Other than... you know..."

          Anne bumped his shoulder, leaning her face into his ear. "Something did happen!" she said, looking back to be sure nobody was following them. "Rayna's priorities are... one... get Jack's ring around her finger, then second... a distant second... get them both into the White House. As a third-party candidate under the Citizens United II campaign finance law reforms, she'd have no leverage... just like she won't should he get nominated as the Democratic candidate.  But, to make it through the primaries and at least appear presentable so people pay attention when he walks out, he needs her money, and the only way she's legally able to give it to him is if they’re married. So, this way, she's got him by the nuts, and now she's twisting! It's not supposed to be known, by the way… just a few lines slipped into the middle of the mulch in order to preserve our sacred two-party system; a needle in the haystack of party protocol legislation that nobody reads… how did you figure it out?"

          "Just assumed nothing's changed over thirty years. The political's still personal – always has been, always will be!" Then, Andy shuddered. "Doesn't he understand what's going on?"

          "The Catfish?" Anne threw back her head and laughed. "Have you read those absurd columns of his... that book?  That idiot Don Jones blog full of numbers that go up and down but never stay anywhere?  There's more intellect resident in a slab of home-cured bacon! What he does have is this really cute, tight ass that almost, almost makes up for his being a blockhead and a ten percent shot at the White House, only because the alternatives are so unpalatable; the primary polls show Warren and Bernie splitting the leftist vote if Biden rests his weary bones, Newsome and Bloomberg the right, Kamala being squeezed out between the polarities and – waiting in the wings once they’ve all destroyed each other, Hillary and John Kerry and Al fuckin’ Gore… Gore and Kerry!... every mother’s son and daughter of them’s over seventy!  Jerry Brown!  No matter which donkey emerges from the primaries, there will be so many disgruntled Democrats starting new single-issue parties, divvying up the vote and driving the states’ winning pluralities down into the twenty-five or thirty percent range after Tillerman finishes cleaning the ex-President’s clock and they nominate… I don’t know… Little Marco or Ted fuckin’ Cruz?   Rayna wants, and what Rayna wants, I'm paid to see she gets.  Poor bumpkin probably won’t even challenge the pre-nup!"

          "By he, I meant Glenn… but what do you get out of it?"

          "What are you doing for the next eighteen months?" she deflected.

          Andy coughed, hastily. "I just hope that Glenn's alright..."

          "He'll land on his feet. Glenn knows how to cover his ass... you talk to him a month from now and he'll tell you this split was his idea, all along... it’s not as if he’s been a Faithful Freddie all these years…"

          "I meant... you know..."

          "Just come with me," she shushed him as they reached the stairwell, reaching across to flick her credentials so the holograms glimmered in the faint, green fluorescence, and drape a protective arm over Andy’s shoulder. "VIP passes!"

          At the top of the stairs, he followed her across the back of the stage, past the podium above and to the right of them with dozens of legs dangling from the bleachers... Andy found himself almost staring up Rayna's pink skirt, her ponderous thighs planted into the planks like a pair of stout German oaks.

          "And so," she was preparing the crowd, "it's only fitting that our closing address comes to you from the man most intimately wrapped up in the progress of our Coalition for a New Consensus. A rancher and businessman, breeder of Madman K, who finished third in the Belmont two years ago, author of “The Coming Killoff” and "Entropy and Renaissance", syndicated columnist, board member of the Don Jones Index and second generation political icon – the former Congressman from Kentucky. Never defeated, politically... our final speaker served faithfully and excellently as CNC Chairman for ten months, and we've reciprocated our confidence by choosing him as our candidate to pursue the Presidential nomination from the Democratic Party, and then the election in November as its nominee, or as an independent, should circumstances dictate! Folks, it is now my privilege to introduce retired Congressman Jack Parnell of Miller's Ridge... a statesman, visionary and hellacious line dancer, the citizens’ alternative to Hillary, Joe and the rest of the tired old mobsters not orbiting up in space, up there… the man we all know and love as the Catfish! C'mon up, Jack!"

          "Coming?" Anne said, extending her hand as a security guard, noting Andy's credentials, nodded respectfully. He mounted the steps to the VIP bleachers slowly and Anne led him to the very top row of seats; three of which were empty, still bearing the stickers "Glenn Savitt", "Anne Kazelka" and "Paul Rinker" as the crowd shouted themselves hoarse, chanting "Catfish! Catfish! Catfish!" as an absurdly tiny figure under an oversized hat emerged from a tunnel at the far, opposite end of Masty Hall.  









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