John Barnes’ twisted new political horror novel: Raise the Gipper!
RAISE THE GIPPER!
You can’t fool a cat
You can fool everybody, but laudie dearie me, you can’t fool a cat. They seem to know who’s not right.
—Cat People (1942)
On Saturday, August 25, 2012, in Tampa, just after eight in the morning, Joe Loinaudroit and Aura Motherwolf were walking together along 78th Avenue. In the movie adaptation of a freshman physics textbook, Aura would have played the role of the action, because she was an activist, and Joe of the equal and opposite reaction, because he was a reactionary. They walked in line, Aura ahead of Joe, because stingy city finances and aggressive property owners had created a minimalist sidewalk along the curb, barely wide enough for one person.
Anyone who knew them casually would have assumed they weren’t talking because they didn’t want to quarrel; Aura’s roommate Emma, the only person who knew them both well, could have explained that their friendship had progressed so far through their mutual love of quarreling that they no longer had to talk.
People in passing cars probably thought it was strange that that hippie chick didn’t notice the creepy missionary walking one step behind her.
At the bus stop, they stood side by side. “Did you get an appointment for Mister Fuzzy?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, but not till the week after the convention. The vet said it didn’t sound urgent and he’s leaving town while the convention’s here. Can you imagine?”
He shrugged. “This is what we live for. Some people hate it.”
Aura nodded. “Yeah. I guess some people have lives.”
The bus came. As always, they shared a seat, and she slipped her portfolio around in front of their calves and opened it. He drew out his sign:
Wake up America your liberty is dying. Obama out now!
and she pulled out hers:
Where’s my bailout? 99%
He muttered, “Make sure we’ve got the right ones.”
“Thank god for duct tape, eh?”
Both signs had lost some ink, and had rough spots on their slick surfaces, where the tape had covered “99%” and “Obama out” on the day they had been in a vehement argument, missed their stop, and rushed off the bus without looking.
“Yeah. Hey, I got new cat food, come over and fill up your container.”
“‘kay. Next bag’s on me. Have a nice day.”
“You too.” As always, they slipped off the bus at the back, in opposite directions.
Joe felt like he was walking into a wall of solid heat. He kept his sign pointed toward himself, pressed against his body, because he liked to feel like he was off duty till he joined the demonstration. It was the last Saturday before the Republican convention, so attendance should be pretty good.
His phone rang. “Hey.”
“Yeah, uh, it was kind of a party night, at the party, last night, you know?” Nathaniel’s voice was blurry.
“Two hundred, PayPal, agreement and delivery, and I don’t deliver till I see the agreement money.”
“Come on, don’t be hostile. You know I’ll pay, and I just need a little help – ”
“Dude, you stiffed me twice, and I don’t do the kind of help you really need.”
The voice was colder and more distant. “Remind me why I pay an asshole like you.”
“You’ve got a blog to do, you can’t do it yourself, and you know who’s the best.”
“Yeah, fuck you.”
“Get the agreement money to me before eleven and I’ll deliver by your three p.m. deadline.”
“Okay, shithead, it’s a deal. Why you gotta have such a fucking stick up your butt? Got your notepad open?”
“Talk.” Joe never took notes from Nathaniel, whose ideas never required more than ten words.
“‘Kay, but get this shit right, they’re already all over my ass about slipping off message. It’s my Sunday morning post, so pump all that Christian nation, simple decency, war on Christianity, don’t screw with shit that’s direct from God, same place the Founding Fathers got it all from, no king but Jesus, and lay it on thick.”
“What’s the issue?”
“Fucking civility. Our democracy doesn’t work the way that God and the Framers intended ’cause there’s no fucking civility, all there is is crude insults from the shithead treasonous Democrat MSM. Stress how if those fuckers don’t clean up their act then whatever happens next is their fault. Pump up how important it is that only a Christian nation can be civil and that civility is important when you talk to Christians or about Christians.”
“Got it,” Joe said. “Civility, lots of Jesus.”
“One more thing. This whole trouble we’re having with finding a nominee, the Mitt Mutiny, everybody deciding we don’t really want our candidate because we want a real Republican instead of that squishy Mormo‑Ken doll? I think it’s because Republicans have lost our own God‑given sense of civility, which is why Mitt won’t get out of the way for a real conservative. And that’s because Mitt Romney has picked up an evil anti‑Christian uncivil way of doing things due to the example of the way the Democrats have treated us in their Democrat‑controlled mainstream media—”
“Yeah! I see that. Good angle, and you’re right, you know, all this internecine screaming at each other, it’s because we’ve been screamed at. Like an abused spouse might be pretty crazy in a second marriage—”
“No second marriages in my blog, Joe. There’s never an excuse for divorce.”
“Right, sorry, I ghost for a lot of people. All right, civility and Christianity and the Mitt Mutiny, Mitt should be a civil guy and step down so the convention can draft a Christian conservative. I’ll do the usual six or seven hundred words, soon as I see your money in my PayPal account.”
“Yeah, right. We’re trying to save our country but the fucking money–”
“Do you want me to do this or not?”
“I think I have some left on an expense card.”
“Make sure it’s enough to pay the delivery too.”
“Fuck you.” Nathaniel’s voice hinted at tears. Probably Joe was one of the few ghosts who would still work with him.
And I’ll be gosh‑darned if I’ll stick around to be the last. Still, this makes the September rent and cable, two more little gigs and I’m good on all bills till October.
Nathaniel broke the silence first. “So, asshole? Will you get it done?”
“I will start when I see the money.”
“M’kay, you’re the best, baby, the best, I love you too. I’ll just wire you some money home.” The line went dead on the other side.
Someone had walked up close enough to hear Nathaniel, so he’d pretended to be on the phone to his wife.
Joe voice memoed, “For blogrightwdlord.net, civility‑Jesus‑Mitt‑Mutiny, emphasis on convention atmosphere, 3 pm today, check PayPal for front money at eleven a.m.” and resolved to forget about it till then.
Tampa’s “multifaceted” Convention Center had helped to win the bid for the Republican National Convention; though the main event, starting Monday, would be a couple of blocks away at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Convention Center had so many rooms and facilities that all of the countless little meetings, ranging from the Refreshment Committee’s meetings with soft drink vendors to the Oregon delegation’s pancake prayer breakfast, could find homes there on short notice. So while crews readied the public face of Tampa Bay Times Forum ready, scrubbing out the last traces of the Monsters of Country Comeback Tour and Song of the South on Ice, all the behind‑the‑scenes dealing happened in the “multifaceted” Convention Center, and the picketers and protestors on all sides knew that too.
That was the other useful way that the Convention Center was multifaceted. The tangle of confusing ramps, stairs, and doors, did not provide any single, obvious, targetable entrance for picket lines or demonstrations, so they were dispersed along several hundred yards of sidewalk. Not a bad metaphor for America; plenty of places to kick up a fuss, but no one who matters has to pay any attention to it. Joe strolled along between the protests and the doors until he found the Tampa Tea Party demo; he joined them, facing his sign toward the traffic, and letting loose with as much of a rebel yell as his Christian‑college‑trained vocal cords would permit to escape.
Maille, beside him, clapped him on the back. “That is the most pathetic impression of a constipated woodchuck I ever heard.”
“Oh, I make lots more pathetic noises than that.”
It was a pretty good Saturday turnout, especially since the home team’s been practicing for months, Joe thought. And if the Mitt Mutiny comes off, imagine the turnout we can get with a candidate instead of a “Not him.”
A few minutes later, when Aura passed by with her contingent from Occupy Tampa East Side, she made a point of picking Joe out personally and yelling, “Fascist!” He shot back, “Witch!”
“Every day that girl yells at you and you yell back,” Maille observed.
“She’s a friend, and it’s in fun. We live in the same building and share a cat‑guard.”
“Cats need guarding?”
“They do when our crazy building manager keeps sending her jerk of a maintenance guy around to take them to the pound, even though we’ve paid pet deposits. Anyway, Aura’s all right, and I always win the argument.”
“Win what argument?”
“The one we have whenever we see each other at demonstrations. She yells fascist and I yell witch.”
“How do you figure you win?”
“In a scientific sample of the two of us, only fifty percent think I’m a fascist, but one hundred percent of us agree she’s a witch. I’m ahead in the polls, and nowadays that’s all that matters.”
Next page -> The Mitt Mutiny