The Country/The Country

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41. Leviathan Could Be Glimpsed in the Pure Blue Distance

“They may throw this all out,” Rodg Dormand said.

He was a big, red-faced man, Keel noticed again at this second encounter. He did not know whether that was a sign of a strong, healthy physique or a heart attack warning.

Aging couples like the Dormands, master and mistress, seemed to flatten into one another, like cartoon characters drawn from the same pen. The same color tones, a similar bulking. Mrs. Dormand had thick hair with an exaggerated springiness, but its color was moving toward her husband’s grayish, thinnish thatch.

Rodg took the lead in their conversation. Juna, sitting beside him on the stiff settee (they had left the soft chair for their guest) and nodding, appeared to be checking off the bullet points in their prepared negotiation.

“It’s just,” he said, “that things may be changing.”

“Things,” Keel said, pronouncing the word as a declarative and not as a question. Some people found this habit disconcerting.

“Well, they are reviewing the whole election,” Juna put in.

“They could just throw it out,” she added, on a rising note that echoed her husband’s controlled agitation, but turned it up a notch or two. She gestured, letting both hands rise, as if seeking to grab hold before ‘it’ got away.

Keel made a sound of polite concern.

He could not imagine Rodg Dormand betraying any similar expression of emotion, though of the two of them he was probably the more anxious, the more aware of the capacity for violence in a man like Pig. According to what he just told Keel about his career, he had owned a trucking company and no doubt encountered men who used threats and intimidation. Having treated him to a brief rehearsal of their joint personal history, the Dormands were ‘leveling’ with him, he took it. So that he would ‘trust’ them.

What, he asked himself, were they afraid of?

Whatever the reason, things were different at chez Dormand. The street was quiet, the dogs out of sight. What was going on to prompt the couple to reconsider their own interests?

Keel waited uneasily in the overstuffed chair in the over-dressed receiving room that felt as if somebody had just blow-dried the thick carpet and trimmed the silk flowers with a toenail clippers. Dog hairs? Not here.

“Well,” Juna said, breaking a silence, “you must have made an impression on Mr. Pegasso.”

“That’s what they tell me,” Rodg seconded.

“I think he likes to get away from the business of the campaign sometimes,” Keel replied cautiously.

“Uh-huh.” Rodg nodded, a show of belief.

But not the substance, Keel knew. They wanted something from him. Reassurance that Pig would ride out this crisis and ultimately succeed, so that their allegiance remained a safe bet. Or some hint, perhaps, that they should try to get out while the getting was still good. What was at risk for bang-up Pig supporters like the Dormands, he asked himself. If the Commission was likely to spike the works -- at this late date -- and the Pig campaign ultimately run aground, where would that leave them?

If, say, Pig’s campaign rode off without paying its bills, and did not in fact succeed to the leadership of the country, would his prominent supporters be on the hook? And maybe not only financially. Who would pay, so to speak, for the campaign’s crimes against persons? The violence of the shamings, the ‘borrowed’ cars, the kidnapped women? One man at least, the one Keel himself saw dangling, had died.

If Pig failed, then where should they seek protection?

“A seasoned government analyst like yourself, Mr. Keel...,” Rodg Dormand began, then trailed off.

Is that what they thought? He wanted to laugh.

“We realize modest you are,” Juna said.

“We don’t presume,” Rodg began, but died off again.

They were looking at him, he thought, for advice on whether they should jump off the horse they’d been riding. And, if so, where they should jump on.

“Let’s not be hasty,” he said, when they refused to stop staring at him. “Let’s give the Commission a little time to think the thing through.”

He tried for a thoughtful expression. Tried turning his chin one way, and then another.

“They’re not likely to be hasty... Things may settle down in a week or two.” What did that mean? Was Keel now punditing the future? “Things may not be what they seem.”

Well, that was almost always the case.

He rose, making his excuses, glancing at his watch. His performance became more certain, for he had in fact spoken truth: things were certainly not what they seemed.

He could not even imagine how they must appear to Mrs. Nathan.

Outside the house, his minder waited in a campaign vehicle with the van door open, holding Survy on her leash.

He’d come up with a new name for poor Feebs, christening him in his mind ‘Clotin,’ after a character in an old play.

People looked uneasy in the House of Pig.

The campaign had been excited, the soldiers’ fighting spirit aroused by Pig’s bold pronouncement that they would challenge the Commission by taking control of the Voting Days into their own hands by virtue of their status as the Leading Candidate.

His advisers, particularly the paid-liar Knicker Cavo, sleek and pointy-faced like the hunting dogs in the old murals, were looking for precedents. Ferreting out instances, however shady, in the Record of All Votings that offered some resemblance to what they were about to undertake.

By now the campaign’s rank and file had learned that plans for next Voting Day -- before the Commission’s declaration of suspension -- called for it to take place in a district on the other side of the Commonhope: Wesmire.

Distant, seldom-visited, and by reputation hopelessly dull.

Wesmire: where the ocean was smooth and the forests very old and, also by reputation, nearly impassable. Loggers cut trees there. Trekkers climbed the mountains. Along the rocky shoreline fishers sluiced the ocean in search of the giant tender-pests, with their many edible pods and their sometimes killing poisons. Leviathan could be glimpsed in the pure blue distance, and great-winged skull-birds skimmed the waters, sometimes stealing dogfish from the sea-hunters’ nets.

None of this made up for the lack of nightlife, clubs, gourmet stew-shops, pell-mell shopping, and the likely absence of available female companionship. Pickings in Monro had been slim enough.

No distance in the country of UZ was too far, of course, in the era of manned flight. Other candidates would enplane and arrive at airstrips with hopeful smiles days ahead of the Leading Candidate. The ‘little men,’ as Pig referred to them. But if your campaign traveled in a vehicular convoy of trucks and buses and fat, baggage-laden motorbikes, crossing the country was a daunting prospect. It would take days.

It would take planning.

Westmire would make for a long complicated piece of business, and no one really wished to make the trip. It was the kind of journey to the kind of place where, when you got there, you immediately began thinking about how long it would take you to get back to somewhere you actually wanted to be.

The idea of ignoring the Commission’s suspension and taking the next Voting Day into their own hands, sounded good in theory, but would likely prove unappetizing in practice.

The soldiers of the campaign knew how the system was supposed to work. Voting Days stopped when the Sacred Commission pronounced a winner. The idea was not to count every crummy little raised hand in the whole country that stuck itself up in the air and wagged its fingers for one or another of the many candidates. The goal was to establish consensus and provide the Sacred Commission with a fair sample on which to make an educated reading of the voters’ thoughts and desires.

The choice was still the Commission’s in the end. It always had been. But it had also been many years, many generations -- scholars disagreed among themselves about the last occasion when this indisputably happened -- since the Commission had ignored an apparent Leading Candidate and given the position of ruler to another

When the Commission declared one of the candidates, based on at least a few rounds of Voting, to be a Leading Candidate, that made the next Voting Day -- regardless of where it took place: in a giant metropolis like Principville, or a high-plains, mountainous district; or a sloppy, underdeveloped backwaters like Wesmire, where the voters were outnumbered by their animals and their children escaped to whatever towns and cities that kept the lights on late as soon as they could drive -- a clear referendum on the status of the Leading Candidate.

Once the Commission set the target, the next district’s voters knew it was their job to embrace that choice or renounce it. Their vote was a big responsibility, the eyes of the whole country were upon them, and so those voters who supported the leader, or strongly opposed him, made every effort to have their voices counted. Schools and workplaces were closed. Those voters who were appalled by the Leading Candidate or strongly in favor of any particular candidate were equally, and strongly, motivated to do their good-citizen’s job. Sometimes a single district had by itself derailed the candidacy of a newly chosen Leader by a strong vote of repudiation against him. ‘Over my dead body!’ these voters seemed to say.

But so far this Voting season that had not happened -- and some observers believed the Commission’s choice of Pig as Leading Candidate had been intended precisely to give voters the opportunity to make that very repudiation of Karol Pegasso. If so, the gambit had failed. Pig’s vote total had topped the results in the next half dozen votes -- even if his total never amounted to a majority, a difficult feat in a Vote that offered from six to ten choices, depending on who dropped in or dropped out, he always won a clear plurality. After these triumphs, most people thought the competition was over.

Most people of course had not yet seen the Pig campaign up close.

The casual atrocities. The bullying and harassment of all opposition.

Some voters in the districts where the Pig had triumphed were filled with regrets. We should have persevered, they muttered. We should have run the gauntlet of bullies and shamers and hurled intimidations.

We should have complained loudly and marched directly to the nearest police station to demand protection for the Sacred Vote.

We should have sworn out complaints. Gone to court. Testified in public sessions. Poured out the truth to the nooz-sheets and the networks.

Well, some voters replied, when they heard this kind of talk, we did go to the nooz-sheets and the networks to complain.

And yet nothing was printed; was nothing was said on air.

As for the local police, it was clear whose side they were one. The rumor was that Pig had promised them all raises. All the police in the whole country would receive a fat percentage raise when he assumed power.

The consequence of silence was that no one in the next district knew what happened in the previous Voting district, where the Pig campaign had arrived, intimidated, shamed, threatened, took without paying, and left creditors holding the bag.

Bar bills for parties of 700 -- local officials, national reps, police, poll workers treated handily: all you wanted, courtesy of the Pig campaign -- mounted up quickly.

Best in the house! Expense no consideration (easy to say when you’re not planning on paying).

And no one saw the bruises, wounds, and hospitalizations -- vivid evidence of what happened to those who stood in the way of the bandwagon.

And, always, a few missing persons.

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