Friday, March 24, 2017

Arkham '88

Arkham '88
Bobby Derie

"Now your Pickman Democrats - that's what they called them in Boston - were very progressive for their time. Thought everyone was equal. 'We all feed the same worms.' Thing is, they meant that literally. They'd hold meetings at funeral homes, picnic fundraisers in cemeteries, thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners in these dark cellars, all raw or fermented meat courses. Very trendy, but politicians ate it up with a smile on their face. They were easy votes and had deep pockets. And the more the politicos ate, the wider the smiles got...but they didn't like Kennedy. His father - the bootlegger - had ties with Innsmouth before '27, and even after that they had kin all up and down the coast. Very conservative, but they all voted for Kennedy. I've always wondered what he promised them for that, because they were all very conservative, especially after the federal raid on Innsmouth; liked small government, self-sufficiency, property rights...really odd fellows to rub elbows at the polls."

Perched on the end of the bar, with the big bay windows on either side, O'Donnell's off of College Street gave a fair view of the Miskatonic campus. Mack had planted himself there just as the Young Republicans were putting up the bunting on the platform, and secured his position by opening a tab with a twenty dollar deposit. The vice president was due in at about 2 o'clock, to give his speech.

I checked the film for the sixth time, and nursed another sip of the local special, which I couldn't pronounce but was a mix of rums and tropical fruit juices with a sour, almost butter aftertaste. It was tiki in a glass and I would have had another one if I didn't have to shoot that afternoon. Mack stuck to shaken martinis, keeping one hand on the satchel with the Dictaphone. We were, despite it all, here to work.

Local color was supplied by the staff of the Arkham Advertiser and Aylesbury Transcript; a couple of genial fellows named Gene Gillman and John Peabody, respectively. Lifers in small-town papers, Mack had made their acquaintance on the campaign trail back in '72, and ever since they had made a point of getting together whenever they were all in the Valley. They made a point of sticking to beer - a cream-colored bock that made Michelob look like horse piss.

"Arkham - college town." Mack went on. "Education generally means liberal, means Democrat. Probably a lot of pinkos in the Department of Medieval Metaphysics."

"Less than you'd think." Gene's stubby fingers, webbed a little near the joints, dug into a packet of saltines. "Arkham is old money, and Miskatonic is still private - not like a land-grant university. Lot of trust-fund kids, and the rest came in on the G. I. Bill after the War." - he meant World War II; both Gene and John were navy veterans, and had done their stint and got out before Korea, much less Vietnam. "Not a lot of hippies or leftists, except for the union-types, and they're all right."

"The Valley went for Dukakis." Mack said, playing with an olive. A police horse clopped past the bar, and for an instant I saw the whole thing neatly framed off - window, doorway, window - horse and rider in each shot. Then I shook my head and asked for some water and coffee. O'Donnell grunted and put on a fresh pot.

"Kingsport went for Dukakis; not Arkham." Peabody interjected. "Down in Dunwich," he pronounced it 'Dunnich', like the natives, "the old men at the cracker barrel still bitch about it. Dukakis loved all the high-tech stuff happening in Boston, ignored half the rest of the state. You know how much farming and fishing have fallen off in the Valley, and the kids all want to move to the towns for the union jobs..."

"...and the union wages drive the business out-of-state, so the kids move away, the banks foreclose, the old houses and barns just go to pot." Gene finished for him. "Whole damn Valley's going down the shitter." He punctuated the statement by slamming his empty glass on the bar. O'Donnell shot him a reproachful look as he took the glass from the journalist's unresisting hand, and started filling a new one from the tap.

"But what does the Valley think about Bush?" Mack said, staring down at the Miskatonic quad. The open doorway nicely framed the podium where the vice-president would be speaking; the press box was already set up a little ways below it, and a lanky grad student in bellbottoms and spectacles was spooling out the cables for the microphones. You couldn't say a word these days without it being recorded. Some said Kingsport News would send a television van, but they hadn't shown up yet. Probably took the wrong turn on the Pike.

"Willie Horton won't play in Arkham," Gene said stubbornly. "Too many folks had kin in Innsmouth. You know how long it took for them to get released? I had cousins that died in that godforsaken camp."

Peabody nodded, adding in: "The whole psychiatry angle won't play either, not with the Sanitarium. You know," he grinned and slid back on his stool at such an angle I didn't know he kept his balance, "they used to let some of them out, in the afternoons? Not the dangerous cases, but the lifers, the ones on work-release programs or whatever. Old-fashioned kooks. Let them wander down into the village, do their shopping, check out books from the library, then back by dinner. College kids loved it. One of them would read weird books like Tolkien out on the lawn, just where the podium is set up. Teenagers would skip class to sit out there and listen as he read."

"A cult?" I asked. Somehow, the coffee had appeared in front of me, and I started sipping it.

Gene blew me a raspberry. "Worse. Young Democrats. Pickman Democrats."


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