The Country/The Country

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40. He Wanted Her to Do It Again

Keel sat in the back of the dining room, and no one seemed to notice. Or if they did notice, to care. His status, perhaps, has changed. Risen a piece -- to low-level palace adviser, maybe. Not a Pigglie, surely, but a theoretically neutral sounding board.

Perhaps even a representative of the people. How was your typical voter, your typical member of the public, likely to respond to a particular move, or gesture, of the Pig campaign? Was that how Pegasso had explained Keel’s presence to his insiders? Those who might understandably be suspicious of the local intruder, the outsider -- the critic -- hanging around and eavesdropping on their discussions. You don’t have to worry, Pig told them (or so he imagined), he’s not talking to anybody. He has no communication tools.

That was true, Keel reflected, at least on the surface. No phone, no wireless line machine.

But the campaign did not know about Mrs. Nathan. It could not. Keel would not be alive if it did.

The discussion, if that’s what it was, began with low-level grumbling: The meals were all the same and the guyz were growing tired of them. But a commander knew that you did not have to respond to the grumbling of soldiers, you just told them what to do. The soldiers, for instance, did not need Keel’s surprising freedom explained to them as a political calculation. They merely had to be told, “Leave him alone.”

The complaints of staffers, the higher-ups, were another matter.

They too were sick of Monro and eager to be welcomed home as the conquering heroes they all along have seen themselves to be. They were tired of the easy short-term delights that come with a short-turnaround. A weekend affair with a local girl. A couple rounds of club-hopping in the trendier spots, of which in a slow-lane city like Monro probably only one or two existed. A chance to sample the cooking at the reputed hi-quizlini eating-places on those occasions when their presence was not required at the common meal gatherings, where Pig presided, if only mutely by the force of mere physical presence.

There. As he was -- again -- this evening. But -- yet again -- saying nothing.

Which might mean sitting in Monro for who knew how much longer. And the campaign was already beginning to wear out its welcome. The populace growing less cowed, the market owners pestering the soldiers and staff for money, no longer willing to extend credit indefinitely. Questions were being asked.

The staffers’ mutterings grew into conversations. A general, unfocused airing of annoyances inherent to life on the road when you’ve overstayed that overpowering first impression.

Was a second impression called for? Has anyone made a list of those who ‘need to be taught a lesson’?

The unhappiness spread from the staffers to the inner circle. Marly Kinslicker, hulking, smiling but mean-eyed, pushed between bodies to find space enough to lean on the table beside Pig.

“Something’s gotta be done, boss,” he said. “We can’t just sit here waiting while those old eggheads come to a boil.”

The boss ignored him.

“They didn’t say when, did they?” he persisted. “When this so-called ’review’s gonna be finished?”

A monologue; with pauses for reply. When none came, Kinslicker resumed.

“They were very careful to leave that out.”

“Smells fishy to me,” someone contributed.

“You bet,” someone else tossed in.

“We just can’t take this lying down,” a staffer from a neighboring table leaned across the intervening space to conclude.

“So what are we going to do?” a staffer at Pig’s table echoed. Careful to look away from the boss when he spoke.

“What are we going to do?” a deeper voice echoed. Kinslicker; finishing what he started.

Silence.

Karol Pegasso put his own two hands flat on the table, like a man about to rise. But didn’t.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.” Loud enough so all the nearby tables could hear. Then the rest of the room would shut up and listen too when the guyz realized the boss was speaking.

Conversation died at once. Even the servers gathering plates and dumping out unslurped liquids paused in their labors to hear what the big man might be about to say that would determine the direction of their own very near future.

“We’re going on with the campaign.”

“How do we do that?” a voice called.

Pig, still not standing, leaned forward and his glance swept the company. The questioner choose not to make himself known.

“How?” Pregnant pause. “We go where we’re supposed to go. To the next Voting Day. And we hold a vote.”

One of the staffers heard what was different in this pronouncement and shot a puzzled glance at his table mates.

"We hold the vote?”

“That’s what I said. We invite everybody who wants to vote to march down to city hall. Everybody gets a big white piece of paper with all the candidates’ names. They drop them all in one big box at city hall.

“The mayor counts them. Uninterrupted TV on the whole shebang.”

“TV watches them count the vote?” a voice queried.

“Why not? What do we have to hide?” He looked around.

No one suggested anything to hide.

Pig picked out a few faces among those sitting in the nearest tables to offer his fixed, beast-man’s stare. Heads turned away, faces looked down.

“Are we going to just sit here on our hands, like good little children? And wait for the old-man Commission to tell us we can get back to the game?”

“No... No....” Voices murmured. Talk began.

“We’re winning, aren’t we?”

“You bet we are!” somebody called from the back of the room, and then everybody joined in.

“You bet your sweet ass!”

“We’re number one!”

Yelling and clapping.

“Pig for the People! The People for Pig!”

This was what he wanted, Keel thought, as the shouts and war cries volleyed back and forth throughout the room. Pig needed to get the energy back. And to take back the initiative from the inconvenient intervention of the Commission.

The Commission had made its move.

That’s how Pig would see it, Keel thought: A question of tactics.

The Commission had tried to erect a barrier to stop his march to the office that by rights already belonged to him. But even the Commission could not stand indefinitely against the will of the people.

The campaign would demonstrate, openly, publicly, televised for all to see, that the people’s choice was undeniably Karol Pegasso, the avatar of change. The people’s candidate. When the country showed itself ungainsayably behind his candidacy by an openly conducted Voting Day -- the nooz-guyz invited to watch every step -- then even the Sacred Commission would have to give way and declare that the so-called ‘review’ was over and done with.

“Victory!” somebody was shouting.

The cry was taken up by the entire room, the

dining hall of the Monroe City Lodge. “Victory!” voices chanted. “Victory!... Victory!... Victory!”

And then, somebody added, “Death to old man Norman!”

That sentiment drew approving shouts as well.

He stood by the window overlooking the front of the Chambers Lodge and the semi-circular drive where the vehicles of the new arrivals would pull up in order to check in and get their room key.

Of course no new arrivals came now. Then to his surprise a vehicle did drive up, a vehicle in some way familiar to him, stopping in front of glass-walled entryway, and the figure of a woman got out from the driver’s seat.

He stood at the window for almost twenty minutes more while the vehicle, a station wagon, lingered at the Lodge’s front door and the driver made no reappearance.

He could not deny the quickening of his heartbeat and nervous flush of perspiration on his chest and shoulder. She likes you, you know, Fama remarked, a throwaway, before disappearing out his window on that night some days before in what was proving the longest week of his life.

Where was Fama now? She was not lugging an old station wagon through the streets of the capital zone to the door of his prison. Fama would arrive by car. She would drop from the sky off some invisible Hoverly-Flycraft painted the color of night and attach herself four-limbed to his window like a gigantic fly.

This was Marga Dormand, of course, the Kevvens’ spy walking boldly into the household of her enemies.

Wearing the same light blue mid-thigh combination coat she wore when she pressed the leash of Survy into his astonished hand. He could not think of any reason -- unless of course she had come to betray him to Pig -- for her to be paying either business or social call on the Pig Campaign. But then why was he so sure that she was on his side? Because she had tipped him off to the meeting at her parents’ house-cum-bunker. What if that was what Pig wanted her do? The Dormands had been expecting him. They had ushered him straight in to the great man. Had Pig wanted him?

How had Pig learned of his existence?

Likely he would never find the answers to these questions.

So why was he now waiting at the window? To make sure she left?

The knock on his door caught him completely by surprise. Without waiting for a response the visitor -- intruder? -- pushed it open, and blue-coated Marga stepped into the room.

“Listen, and don’t interrupt. I don’t want anyone to see me here.”

He nodded and stared, not interrupting.

“They think I’m on their side.”

“They know I’m not.”

“I know. Don’t say anything. I know everything about you already. I know you exposed the horns.”

“All I did --”

She shook her head violently and put a finger across her lips. Then she crossed to him, leaned against his shoulder, and put her lips against an ear. “Don’t talk,” she said. “I mean it. Sometimes a second voice triggers the room monitor. Then they may be watching.”

Keel nodded and was sorry when she withdrew her lips, and then the rest of her, from contact with his person.

So now all he could do was listen.

“She’s not happy,” she said, speaking rapidly in a whispery quarter-volume. “It didn’t work, not the way she wanted. She’s been seeing" -- with emphasis -- “some sort of great rising. People just rejecting Pig. Sometimes, she says, things take another turn before you can see them coming... But now we’ve got the Commission involved -- possibly because we stuck Pig’s picture in their face for a whole day -- and she can’t see yet what they’re going to do.”

Marga inspected a thumbnail.

“Probably because they don’t know themselves.”

She gave him a confiding look, a half-smile of perplexity.

He opened his mouth, and closed it at her look.

“It’s funny. You can’t tell everything that might just happen. Even she can’t.”

But Keel now knew what would happen. At least Pig’s plans for what would happen.

He shook his head, in agitation, raised a finger -- Wait! -- and went for the complimentary notepad on the desk. He picked up a pen and began scribbling “Tell Mrs. Nathan....”

She waited, whispering ‘hurry!’ and when he finished and shoved the page at her, she glanced over it quickly.

“OK,” she said. “I get it. But she knows everything they say, everything they think. She says she hears them talking in her dreams.”

I have those dreams too, he thought. But he couldn’t remember them -- except for the rare few that haunted him afterwards. Remembering one of them had led him to this place.

Marga pointed to the door and lifted a hand in farewell. “Don’t leave the room,” she whispered. “Don’t do anything.”

Was that his role? His ultimate place in the scheme of things? The man who didn’t do anything.

She looked her message hard into his gaze. Then looked at him more softly.

“He’ll send you to do something.” More visions from the seer? “An errand. Don’t fight it. Just do it.”

She looked past him, at the dark window, as if something were out there. Was there?

She leaned in close once more. “She has a plan,” she whispered. “I don’t know if it’s another plan, or the same plan taking longer.”

Of course she does, he thought. Mrs. Nathan always has a plan. One of her plans put him here.

This was his life now. After a half-dozen years of forced retirement, a woman crosses a parking lot and gives you a dog. You quarrel, but it’s just pretend. And then she touches you.

At the end, he suspected, all you will have is the dog.

Still, he wanted her to do it again.

Survy was halfway under the bed, a favored retreat, having shown no interest in her former keeper. She looked up at her master guiltily

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