One from the Vaults: Free sample from RAISE THE GIPPER! with order buttons

 True Love Across the Political Divide, 
Evil Space Bats, 
Righteous Rosicrucians, and
 the Rancid Resurrection of a Republican Ringer: 
Zombie Ronald Reagan!

Free sample of Raise the Gipper, up through a bit over halfway through Chapter 2.  If you notice you're enjoying it, you can buy a complete copy:
•Direct from me  in mobi (for Kindle)
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•From Amazon.
May there be laughter in plenty,  may all your zombies shamble well, and may the Republic survive even the Republicans.

Anyway, have a look:

by John Barnes

Indicia and stray information

Raise the Gipper! is ©2012 by John Barnes.

Metrocles and Metrocles House, and the Metrocles mark on the front cover, are used by John Barnes to identify his self‑published works.

Cover art is by Stan Yan, and is copyrighted and owned by Stan Yan, who reserves all rights. If you are interested in using the cover art, or in your own zombie caricatures, or some terrific graphic storytelling,  please contact him at his extremely fun and funny webpage.

This is a work of fiction.  Persons appearing in this book are not real and are not intended to be understood as real. Those with the same names as living, well‑known persons are portrayed here for the political purpose of questioning and undermining  respect for their authority, under the full protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as extended by the Fourteenth Amendment, for political speech.   Aside from well‑known public figures, any use of a real person's name is accidental and unintentional.

The portrayal of the global and political system as  being under the control of  vicious aliens from outer space bent on degrading humanity to extinction and destroying  our glorious planet is entirely my invention, and should not be taken to imply that any such creatures actually control  any specific  bankers, administrators, religious leaders, etc.   Sure would explain a lot if it were true, though, wouldn't it?

For Julie Rodriguez and Soren Roberts, who were getting married just about the same time I was finishing this; may it all be more fun than any of us can imagine.


Chapter 1
You can't fool a cat

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, 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."
As with many other things in history ranging from the Holy Roman Empire to the French Radical Socialist Party, the Mitt Mutiny bore little resemblance to anything its name implied. Mitt Romney was neither a part of it nor the authority it was aimed at, and at this point there were no acknowledged mutineers, yet Googling "Mitt Mutiny" would yield 44 million hits, and the Mitt Mutiny had been the lead story on every newscast for the past two weeks. Not since "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus" had the media devoted so much attention to a single story about whether or not the subject of the story existed.
The idea of the Mitt Mutiny had been proposed by a dozen right‑wing bloggers immediately after Santorum withdrew from the race in April. It had been endorsed by more people as Romney's pile of delegates mounted up and finally staggered, barely, over the finish line.
The theory behind it was that although Romney had the necessary majority of the delegates to win the nomination, he had at best tepid support within the party, his numbers against Obama were sickly, and that in light of the actual feelings of most Republicans, Romney's continued good health and freedom from scandal were becoming a convincing argument against the power of prayer.
The practical side was that many of Romney's delegates were unenthusiastic about Romney; they were longtime party activists who had wanted an excuse to go to the convention, and had agreed to be Romney delegates to do it. Since the Republicans had not experienced a second ballot at a convention since 1948, and so many delegates were now pledged, conventions had gradually become more about the Great Big Party than about the Grand Old Party, and being a delegate was an excuse for a fun weekend out of town for political junkies. Some large fraction of Romney's pledged delegates had wanted a Florida vacation, not a chance to support Romney, and were angry enough to consider either breaking the rules on the first ballot and voting for someone else, or deliberately preventing the first ballot from being completed, to force the issue to roll over to the second ballot when they could vote freely.

The intersection of the theoretical and the practical happened on the internet, where everything does now. Delegates had found each other via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email lists, and dozens more places, and some unknown number of them claimed to have talked with others who were organizing, or proposing, or maybe just contemplating, the Mitt Mutiny: breaking the convention's own rules in whatever way was necessary to give the nomination to someone else. Some much larger number of people weren't advocating the Mitt Mutiny but were hinting that they might like to be invited, an even bigger group wanted to know about it but didn't want to be identified with it, and because of the effect the American president has on the rest of the world, absolutely everyone wanted to know what happened as soon as it did.

In short, worldwide conversation about the Mitt Mutiny, just before the convention, was in about the same state as high‑school‑wide conversation about a rumored group‑sex after prom party just before the prom: nobody was admitting to planning to attend, but everyone wanted to know who would, and what they would do.
Aura wondered if that perfectly made up, skinny frosted‑blonde Repugnagoon next to Joe was going to be his next "serious relationship." In the six months she'd known him, Joe had had four "serious relationships" with, as Aura described them all to her roommate Emma, "Joe in a skirt suit with perfect hair and makeup, but without Joe's feminine side."
Anyway, she was only worrying about that to take her mind off her worry about whether she had called things right. It had felt so powerful and real last night, when, while chanting over the model of the Convention Center that Emma had made for her, Aura had taken her crystal pendulum out of its hand‑sewn velvet pouch, unwound the gold chain (24k and with infinity‑shaped links in the chain, you couldn't do good work with inferior materials) without any twists, folds, or hesitations, and let it sway gently over the building, dowsing for the place where OTES could confront one of the Undying Faceless. 

She knew they were here; every practitioner of the Craft had been feeling them around the Republican Party for a decade or more, and ever since this Mitt Mutiny thing had started, the Undying Faceless had been practically swarming. 

The pendulum had audibly thumped against that one particular obscure door. Dowsing the clock dial had similarly given her a time: 11:55, and the crystal had first pointed to the exact time, and then swiftly, without hesitation, touched one, one, center, five, five as precisely as if it had been guided there on rails. Aura had been working the Craft since seventh grade, and she'd never seen a clearer indication. 

Now, though, she just wasn't confident about how she had persuaded OTES to picket the next big, impressive entrance north of the obscure door, so as to be able to run to the side door at 11:53 and pounce on whatever Repugnagoon tried to come in or out.
Maybe even one of the Undying Faceless. Despite the broiling wet heat of the day, she shivered.
"Whoa, did you date him or something?" Fawn asked.
"That Tea Bagger."
"Tea Bag guy back there in the horn rims, with the PeeWee Herman Waits Tables outfit, the one you called a fascist."
"Oh, no, Joe lives in my apartment building. Except for being a fascist monster and a total tool for capitalism, he's a good guy. We share cat‑sitting because the building manager is an evil cat‑hating bitch and the maintenance man is even worse so to keep Mr. Fuzzy and Nimrod safe, we split paying my roommate to keep an eye on them."
"Isn't that expensive, even splitting it?"
"Naw. Emma's a theater grad student, and never goes anywhere during the day because she's got a ton of reading to do for her comps. We're just giving her beer and art supply money. Besides, when it's Joe's turn to host in his apartment, Emma gets her chance to have lunchmeat, white bread, iceberg lettuce, and Coors Light, and escape the commie‑witch‑terrorist whole fiber stuff I buy. She feels kind of deprived sometimes because I can't have corporate vampire food in the same fridge with my special Craft supplies, so everything in our fridge is free range and free trade and organic and homeopathic and non‑nuclear and race, gender, faith, and class neutral."
"That so totally makes sense. Sometimes I cheat and use the air conditioner in my place."
"I know, right?" Aura didn't feel like confessing that last night she had turned on the AC; really, it was just for poor Mr. Fuzzy, who was shedding so badly in the heat. But whatever it had done for her shaggy tabby, it hadn't prevented her nightmares about this whole weird Mitt Mutiny thing.
She was sure she knew the cause: Mr. Fuzzy and Nimrod were good buddies, so Joe's worrying had put some really dark streaks into his aura, especially down near the floor; she had seen those herself. Nimrod, who of course lived on the floor, had been practically bathed in that dark slimy stress, so Mr. Fuzzy, very nurturing cat that he was, had been grooming Nimrod constantly, absorbing his stress load and depositing only‑partially‑reprocessed fear and negativity all over Aura's sheets.
Well, sleep or not, right about the Unseen Faceless or not, it was time to get busy. She started up a chant of "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!" It seemed to improve everyone's spirits except hers.
The laptop bag on Joe's shoulder felt like an anchor pulling him down into the puddle of sweat at his feet. He'd already recorded permission from half a dozen people to attribute quotes to them, coached them into saying the quote well, and shot little quickie videos on his phone, so he had some nice solid material for this ghost blog gig and for his own blog. He wanted lunch.
He caught a northbound trolley and rode into the downtown. Jay's American Café was a block and a half away from the trolley line, had a large awning that kept sun off the front window, and Caleb, his favorite waiter, didn't mind a quiet, almost‑daily decent tipper who took up the tiny table back by the kitchen for the whole lunch hour. Caleb looked like he was three days off a decent shave, with one of those machine‑part shaped pieces of nose jewelry that Joe thought of as booger‑vents, but he was awesomely efficient.  

Caleb, and Jay's American, are two of the nicest things about Tampa, Joe thought. He needed things like that to keep his spirits up. Not that he regretted having come here; it had been a calculated gamble that still might pay off. Back in January, his cheap‑ass by‑the‑month dump had been a well‑located home base for his make‑or‑break campaign to go full pro as a commentator.
He'd spent the primary months driving everywhere for endless hours in his ancient Geo till it finally collapsed and died on Leap Day in Sioux City, trying to make it from Michigan to Wyoming. The mechanic, a cranky Iowa Democrat (were there any other kind?), reading the bumper stickers on it, had explained that the Geo was had been destroyed because, like Bachmann, Caine, Huntsman, and Perry, it had had no business going even as far as it had, and had been kept running only by ignorance, lunacy, or mental deficiency. "Unlike your candidates, though, your car can be parted out."
Glumly, Joe thought, if they could just have taken the good pieces of each of the candidates... Anyway, once his Geo had died, he'd been on the Hound, or planes when he could afford them, without Nimrod for company, but with more time to write while someone else drove.
The first time he'd come home back to his apartment from a road trip, from the Washington caucuses, he'd discovered that Mrs. Valdes had sent Cooper, her big stupid maintenance guy, into the apartment to claim that Nimrod had scratched him and take him to the pound. Aura had seen what was happening, bailed out Nimrod and kept him with her till Joe got back; that was how they met.

He'd thanked her with dinner at a pizza joint; two pitchers of her preferred sludgy‑brown‑mud‑beer and three of his Coors, plus five hours of screaming argument, later, they were friends, and as the manager threw them out he said, "The mean, nasty, vicious way you people fight, you should fucking get married," which both of them were drunk enough to find hilarious.
Thinking of Aura often made him smile, but not enough to make him give up thinking about her; the smile was kind of like the hangover he got from drinking too much, just the penalty you paid for something pleasant in your life.
He nodded and thanked Caleb for the second glass of Coors Light. Then he flexed his hands, and began to type:
Those of us who take our country and our God seriously have been getting a lot of pious little sermons lately about "civility" from the same kind of whiny liberals who believe in special privileges for homos, kowtowing to whatever conglomeration of mangy natives some fat chick thinks is the spiritual home of her cultural identity, and equal time for everybody's God whether it's the true God or He Who Makes Them Wear Those Things On Their Heads.
Where is our civility, they demand of the people of the Christian right?
The Kenyan Kommunist himself has even said we should all be more civil. And yet apparently his orders have not gotten down to his smelly dirty‑hippie followers, let alone to his union‑goon storm troopers, who continue to insult and threaten the people who speak up for Christian love. And so intense and vicious is the language and abuse heaped on American Christians by what we might call the five u's—unsuccessful slackers, ungodly teachers, unionized not‑really‑workers, ugly feminazis, and unwashed hippies—that it is has polluted the bloodstream of the Republican Party, which once ran red and strong with the oxygen of Reagan, and is now sickly and anemic and pale blue with the carbon monoxide of Mitt Romney.
Yes, it is time to admit that just one thing stands between us and getting a real candidate, and it is that Mitt Romney has succumbed to the same piggish and crude incivility that is the Democrat stock in trade. Like the uncivil guest who knows he is no longer welcome at a party because someone more interesting is coming over, but hangs around anyway, Romney is rudely clinging to his privileges as front runner like any interest‑group Democrat.
Yes, it is time to face facts. The GOP should long ago have tossed Mitt Romney away like an old piece of bland trash, but his rude inability to take a hint has prevented us. And Mitt's incivility was brought on by the public examples of the sorry PC drizzle of anti‑Christian hate speech from the Left, and the cowardly adoption and use of its vocabulary by RINOs and moderates and their ilk. This is what we get for too much compromise and too much attention paid to the Democrat homo‑loving real‑man‑hating...
Writing as Nathaniel was always a breeze because the guy was such a foamer that if any phrase seemed like it was over the top, you just repeated it three times. The cheap so‑and‑so had a tendency not to pay, but Joe had several collection methods that worked – mainly sending invoices and veiled threats to Nathaniel's bosses – so he generally got the money in the end; he would collect on the two pieces Nathaniel had stiffed him on, eventually.
He finished the 788 words and checked to make sure he was okay thematically: eleven of those words were Christian, seven Jesus, six family, five homos—right in the groove.
He fought down the thought that, "Jesus, you Christians have a lot of homos in your families" would have been an across‑the‑board score, accepted another Coors Light from Caleb, and set to work on his own blog.

 Chapter 2
The lesser evil

Schar'hukk C'desto'dha was bored, as he had been for most of the last 17,000 years. These monkeys had their atrocities, of course, every species the Undying Faceless had acquired had at least some potential for atrocity, but still, these stupid, almost‑hairless monkeys were so basic. Their worst crimes were plain oatmeal to Schar'hukk C'desto'dha, who, over a billion years, had sampled feasts of legend by the finest chefs of agony. 

Schar'hukk C'desto'dha had relished the signals of suffering under thousands of different suns, via hundreds of different senses, from the odor given off by a mother Sppppt when her mind‑linked, ready‑to‑hatch egg is crushed and force‑fed to her while still conscious, to the radio pulse of a Quorft when it is pinned on its back and its tusuira set on fire. He had witnessed every moment of the thousand‑year progression in which a Ferxmhane Overmind succumbed to addictively manipulating hesherm's blood‑chlorine level until hesherm became a screaming, hapless, stupid infant, bitterly aware of all it could no longer grasp, able only to loathe itself and scream to be assuaged with another breath of chlorine. He had spent a hundred thousand years in the subtle seduction of the Pringyoth, who spent a century preparing for just one mate with whom their emotional bond would last fifty centuries. The Undying Faceless had reshaped Pringyoth arts and culture to value fickleness and spite so much that the last pathetic survivors had taken thousands of years to die of loneliness within sound and scent of each other, unable to offer sincere comfort or express real gratitude. Finally consuming their scrumptiously spoiled souls had been a feast of feasts.
I do love a good melodramatic cosmology, Schar'hukk C'desto'dha thought. It cloaked the Undying Faceless in a classy kind of style that would have been missing from the more explicit Hurt their bodies, take their stuff, relish their agony, eat their souls, leave their husks on the trash‑heap of species.
The body he wore had been sitting perfectly still in the middle of the arguing, whining, and shouting, a behavior which had given it a reputation for wisdom and for calm clear vision. Schar'hukk C'desto'dha ceased reveling in pleasant memories and brought his focus back to the monkeys in the room, who were an Emergency Ad‑Hoc Double Extra Special Super‑Secret Committee, or something like that, on Something Or Other.  

Something Or Other was his truthful phrase for their meaningless words that existed only to conceal the issue they were all blathering on about: this room contained the people who could make the Mitt Mutiny work, and nobody wanted Mitt Romney, but no other possible candidate could excite them enough to run the risks of the Mitt Mutiny. When you strike at a king, you must kill him, of course, but after that, you must also have a king in the wings.
Naturally these top, insider leaders were in a panic. In less than forty‑eight hours, the convention would begin in a burst of color and music to please the old people who could kind of remember that conventions used to be important. The blogs would be crawling with the news about how exciting the possible Mitt Mutiny was. A variety of telegenic people, a selected sprinkle of bizarre people, and a leaven of people who were good at looking knowledgeable would be put in front of cameras. They would have, for one brief moment, a level of attention that normally only focused on a pop singer's nipples.
And then what?
Mitt, or mass disobedience to the rules.
If Mitt, a subsequent borefest.
If mass disobedience ... a second ballot, with most of the delegates unpledged and able to pick any damned idiot they wanted, but out of all that vast swarm of damned idiots at the convention, and around the country, there was no single damned idiot they really wanted.
And then what?  

That question had finally frightened them enough, Schar'hukk C'desto'dha judged, now, at twenty minutes past the scheduled adjournment. The consultant from LA was late for her hairdresser, the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly was late for the all you can eat shrimp special, and the Governor of Ohio was late for an outcall (for which a Supreme Court justice had pledged him an immense tip). They wanted an answer now.
Schar'hukk C'desto'dha fully activated his monkey‑body and plunged back into his persona as Dr. Bayle Brazenydol. He cleared his throat.

They fell silent and looked to him with desperate hope. Good monkeys. "Perhaps I can be of some assistance at this point." Oh, yes, now you're willing to try anything, aren't you?
"I do think you have all done a splendid job of outlining the reasons why none of the possibilities you are considering are satisfactory. Mr. Romney, as you say, has the votes here, but not the support in the party, let alone passion in the country. Mr. Santorum has passion but gives much offense. Mr. Gingrich's passion is offensiveness. If we were to nominate Ron Paul, the news outlets of America would immediately be flooded with phone calls demanding that they quit joking. And I do assume that none of you is so insane that you were hoping to revive some candidate who dropped out of the primaries and thus be assured of running a proven loser?" 

The only Bachmann fan in the room blushed violently but kept silent. The brains in the room, Schar'hukk C'desto'dha thought. Blushing and shutting up are two more good decisions than most of them have ever made.
 "As for the ringers‑and‑outsiders list, your Bushes and Jindals, Rubios and Palins, they separate rather nicely into–"

lean meat and drippings.
Stop that, stop that, concentrate!
he chided himself, we almost have them!

"—that is, they separate into, ahh, three categories: 

"One, 'Mitt Romney Without the Guts to Even Try In the First Place,'
"Two, 'Rick Santorum With Enough Common Sense to Know How Embarrassing He Is,' and

"Three, 'oh, dear god, Sarah Palin.'

"Now we are admittedly in quite a bad spot here, and that is the classic situation for choosing the lesser evil, but ladies, gentlemen, we must stop thinking in the small, petty, loserish way that is implied in that silly, mingey, whining‑to‑be‑forgiven phrase 'the lesser evil.' Right here, right now, it is time to make up our minds to stop seeking the lesser evil.
"Look at the position in which seeking that pathetic goal has placed us: Going into the Republican Party National Convention, in all objective truth, our non‑winning front‑runners are the sorriest collection of stuffed shirts, empty suits, self‑gratulatory ignorami, and outright wig‑flipped ding‑dongs in the history of the Republic."
That should sound appropriately dumb‑ass hillbilly for a brilliant insider consultant. One of those inexplicable things about the monkeys was that they only trusted the wisdom of people brighter and more worldly than themselves when it was expressed in the vocabulary and style of rural idiots. In his guise as Brazenydol, he had once had a contract with DARPA to teach a team of physicists the basic terminology of tractor pulls so that they could give an acceptable explanation of omniwavelength stealth to a Congressional committee that didn't understand tractor pulls, either.
"We have an opponent who could be rolled up like an old cheap rug by any Republican who could just clearly articulate a few basic conservative ideas without simultaneously stepping on his dick—or her dick, excuse my P‑Not‑C‑ness, ladies—and all we can come up with is Mitt Romney. And this is all because all of you are looking for the lesser evil, praying for the lesser evil, endlessly seeking the lesser evil. 

"So embrace the alternative." He had them. They were loathing themselves for their own despair, and would leap like crabs in a bucket grasping at the spatula, that moves them into the boiling pot.
Bobbing one hand gently, as if conducting them, he phrased his questions in the corresponding rhythm. "Who do we all wish we could run at this historic moment? Who would you run if you could run anyone – eligible or not, American or not, living or not –?"
His hand led them into a little double bump at the bottom of the motion, each time he said "Or not."
Now he doubled the double bump, and in unison, the crowd said, "Ronald Reagan," and emitted a long, sad, regretful choral sigh.
Now. "Here is how we are going to nominate Ronald Reagan, run Ronald Reagan, and win with Ronald Reagan, this year, and govern with him and through him for many years to come."
He told them how, beginning by explaining that, "The secret is that America needs a highly charismatic conservative President, and the uncontested governance and firm guidance of real conservatives, and we can have both, but they don't have to be the same person, or people at all." He told them just enough detail to make sure they would come back, and not think of blabbing, and ordered them to be in a prepared location that night – not before nine, he thought, the Governor needs time for some remorse, a binge, a nap, and a prayerful commitment not to do that again.
"Adjourn the meeting and tell them all they're brilliant for having thought of this idea," he barked at the Chair. "No one will remember hearing my order."
The Chair sat upright and spewed an array of platitudes, sending them all to where they needed to go.
Aura willed her hand to relax and not crush the rose petals she held in it.
The door swung open and about forty men, and half a dozen women, dressed in ultra‑expensive versions of nondescript suits, walked through.

The three serious political junkies in OTES gasped simultaneously, recognizing a who's who of the very top Republican campaign consultants, leaders, and fat cats. Everyone else, as agreed, roared as one, "GOP! You can't hide! We know you're on the rich man's side!"
Cameras and phones were out and working hard to record the stunned expressions, a collage of electrocuted pigs, gaffed salmon, and propositioned missionaries.
"It's not your country, give it back!" the next chant began, as the 'pubs set their grim responsible‑daddy‑people expressions.
Aura stepped forward, as she had planned, and scattered the rose petals over them. It wasn't a very powerful spell; the Republican Party of Cheyenne, Wyoming had warlocks with more than enough mojo to remove it. But it might make some of them feel a bit better, and less malicious, and would almost certainly expose the Undying Faceless she thought must be here.
Aura sang, "Blessings on all of you and may you be the way to the best thing for our country!" beaming sincere love and affection through the vocal tone of a kindergarten teacher hoping, just this once, that they would pick up their toys and put them away properly.

As she sang the last syllable, something squeezed her throat like a vise. Everything around her froze. The rose petals vanishing in puffs of dirty black smoke. The only thing moving besides Aura was an obese man with a gray goatee, shaved head, and shaggy brows glared at her over his thick‑as‑they‑were‑wide reading glasses. She felt it knowing who she was in her bowels.
Then things moved again; the sulfurous smell of the exploded rose petals hung in the air, but no one seemed to have noticed them.
"You okay?" Fawn asked, catching her arm.
"Someone must've walked on my grave," she said.
"Really?" Fawn asked. "Witches can feel that?"
"Sometimes, at least," Aura said, too loudly, trying to speak over the voice in her head that said, Grave, darling monkey? Try casserole dish.
"One of your tribe appears to be looking for you," Caleb said, quietly. "Help him find you or throw a tablecloth over you?"
Joe looked up and saw Grant Hayes looking around the cafe, and waved. "If he ever turns up again, flag him in, he's money on two feet."
"And looks it. I'll get another setup."
Grant looked like Joe hoped to look in another twenty years – noiselessly self‑comfortable, quietly stylish, and all but silently rich, the way the ruling class was meant to be, Joe thought.
Joe rose to shake hands; Hayes nodded at the other chair and said, "May I?"
He sat. Caleb instantly delivered the set‑up and menu, which Hayes waved off. "Just set me up with whatever the cook thinks a Cuban sandwich ought to look like, side of fried potatoes seasoned any way he thinks is interesting, side salad with some cucumbers in it and balsamic on the side, café Americano, and figure out the way to bill me the maximum for it. Mr. Loinaudroit's bill should be added to mine."
"Right away." Caleb winked and nodded at Joe.
As Hayes cut up his sandwich and fries with a knife and fork, he chatted pleasantly with Joe about the conservative blogosphere and gently led into betraying Nathaniel's drinking‑and‑party‑problem. He didn't feel particularly guilty. Grant Hayes just always learns what he wants to learn, when he wants to learn it, and I'm sure he makes use of it, but I have no idea what. I'm just glad there's not much to know about me.
When the plates had been cleared, Hayes glanced around quietly. "I hope you understand that what follows is a deep gesture of trust in you."
Joe nodded. "I hope you understand that that honors me."
"Good." Hayes fiddled under his tie and, to Joe's surprise, pulled out a small gold cross. "Does this mean anything to you?" He extended it across the table.
Joe accepted it into his palm, and looked closely. On the front there was a bas‑relief of the crucified, suffering Christ. Although the figure was very rounded and stylized, the shredded mess of the wound in the side, the torn skin around the nails and the crown of thorns, and the expression of horror and despair were deliberately vivid, as if the Christ in front of him were sinking into a cross‑shaped puddle of gold, leaving only the agony behind. Joe turned it over; a white rose of inlaid pearls gleamed at the center of the cross.
"Just a little while ago," Hayes said, "I was at a meeting where someone spoke for a few minutes, and everyone in the room agreed to something that was thoroughly unchristian and un‑American. The moment I heard his words I began to feel sleepy and unfocused, and I think I would have been as cooperative as the others except that this cross, which I always wear next to my heart under my clothes, glowed so hot it did this."

He undid two buttons on his shirt and showed the hot, blistered brand just left of his sternum. "Notice it was only the gold that heated up; the outline of the rose is unburned, and that's inlaid mother of pearl. But that cross was so hot that most of the figure of Christ—which was fully three‑dimensional just a couple hours ago, and as finely detailed as the crown of thorns still is—melted right into it. And the pain from that hot piece of metal against my skin seems to have kept me from slipping into the trance, and even though he told us not to, I remember most of what that man said." He pulled out a bit of charred shirt.
Joe half‑croaked, "What do you want me to do?"
"Come with me tonight. I need a witness who's a journalist, and I'd rather have a guy who's hungry to break a big story. Plus, frankly, you look like a decent type to me, and if anything is going to save us all, it's personal decency." Hayes handed Joe a very plain empty cross of silver. Turning it over, he saw a tiny rose in chips of ruby was inlaid there.
"Always wear it with the rose touching your skin, so that anyone who might see it would think it was only a religious symbol."
"What is it?" Joe asked. "Protection," Hayes said. "I've worn mine for thirty years, and I always knew it was protection, but I was astonished and frightened to find myself being protected."
"Anything that the Crux Rosae reacts to is fearsome indeed. We should both be terrified, if you're coming along. It will be the story of a lifetime, I can promise you that."
"Will I get a burn like the one you got?"
"If you're lucky." When Hayes had shown it to Joe, it had been visibly blistered, but now, even though he winced, the man stroked a finger over where the burn was as if he were fondling it, Joe thought. "Honesty compels me to say that I don't know if a novitiate's cross, like the one you are holding, will protect you in the same way that this one protected me. There are only eight like mine in the world at any time, and I have worn mine for thirty years, since the last man to wear it gave it to me. It was hundreds of years old; now it will have to be retired, and a new one made. But we are taught that God is no respecter of persons; I think the humblest bit of tacky plastic from the Dollar Store religious rack, sincerely worn, might have been equally protective, though it would probably have given a nastier burn. And I suspect the grandest gold reliquary would have done nothing for an unbeliever. 

"I am choosing you because you're known to write what you believe – at least when you write under your own name, and we were told, by this ... being, who is masquerading as one of us: no journalists, no reporters, no historians, no one who might make a record, and it's always good to defy these beings. Also you were the first person I saw, after the incident, that I wanted to see, and signs like that are important."
Joe was still stunned and bewildered, but the basic reporter instinct kicked in. "You said 'masquerading as one of us' – so he's a Democrat masquerading as a Republican, a radical pretending to be conservative, what?"
"I would be afraid to speak the word for what it is aloud. The syllables would translate literally to 'Undying Faceless.' But it's pretending to be human."
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May love count for more than party, and may all your parties be fun, and may what's dead stay that way, and not eat the living.