Buster eyed him curiously. "Are you one of them?"
"Fortunately no. I am in Susan Winston's district, though, and she's taken care of that for herself."
"I see. So what did you think of the op-ed? Would you be willing to vote for my proposal in the next election?"
He shook his head and grimaced derisively. "Not in a million years, and I'll tell you why. This country was designed as a representative democracy, and that representation is based on where you live. I vote in city elections because I live here. I'm going to vote against Sue Winston because I'm in her district, at least for the moment. What you're suggesting throws all of that out the window. You say you want to create a new district just for those cretins who keep screaming about being the ninety-nine percent? Well, what makes them more important than anyone else? Why not create a new district just for pedophiles? After all, there's probably more of them in this town than there are people in that asinine encampment of theirs."
Buster's breath had gone ragged, and his right index finger was beginning to twitch. Anyone who'd seen video of him fulminating in the guise of one of his cast of colorful characters, and that probably included a good percentage of the crowd, knew what to expect next. But instead of the shift in body language that usually telegraphed whether he'd fire back as an offended Kentucky Colonel or maybe a haughty Boston academic, he stood motionless for a good ten seconds. When he did speak, it was in very controlled tones. "To begin with," he said, "there's more to how this country works than what's outlined in the constitution."
His questioner smiled coldly. "And there's more to usurping control of city government, Councilman Flange, than changing the rules to suit your whims."
Buster's posture slumped, and his voice rumbled with the righteousness of a proud defender of the antebellum south. "I've had about enough of your guff, sir! Fomenting revolution may be the constitutional duty of every red-blooded American the moment our government turns its back on the principles laid down in the Constitution, but what we're talking about here today is a way to correct the grievous damage that's been done to the balance of power in this country. Every level of government, and every branch of it, has been tainted with the lust for gold. Bankers are running the Treasury Department, arms dealers are running the Pentagon, and an almighty cabal of business executives is calling the shots in Congress. It's high time the people of this country took back control of their government, and this change in the city charter is how we're going to do it."
The man clapped slowly as he approached the stage. "Bravo, Councilman Flange. Excellent performance. But don't you think you're overreaching just a bit? This is city council we're talking about, not Washington, D.C. Even so, I'm sure your little tirade there is all anyone will need to realize what a joke you are, and what a load of crap your proposal is."
Mall owner Sid Carson, who'd been watching from the far edge of the food court, strode directly toward Buster's tormenter. When the man saw him coming, he turned and headed for the exit. At that point, Sid changed course and mounted the stage. "Friends," he said, spreading his hands as if he were giving a benediction, "please forgive that. This stage is our public square, and sometimes that means it can be noisy and upsetting, but if we don't let other people have their say, we lose our own voice as well. For now, though, I think we should call an end to the question and answer session. We've already gone long, and I think Councilman Flange and Miss Gordon have answered everyone's questions. Thank you all for coming."
Buster stood limply, staring at the spot where his questioner had stood, while the crowd filtered off into the mall. Althea watched him for a moment, and then slowly closed the space between them. When nobody was left in earshot, she whispered, "I wish you hadn't done that. It's going to make it that much harder for us to overcome resistance to this idea."
He glanced at her, and then looked away. "I tried. I really did."
"Look," she said gently, "both of us have used crutches to help us deal with being more visible than we'd like. I felt like an idiot the first time I put these overalls on. I mean think about it, a pink welder? But I came to realize that being too visible is also another way to go unnoticed. People will ignore something if it's too outlandish. So I think the problem that you keep running into is that the personas you adopt when you go off like that are too cliche. That gives people the chance to paper over what you're saying with their preconceptions about the kind of person you're doing it through. If you're going to be stagy, do it in a different way. Find a persona that they can't ignore so easily."
He shrugged. "Like what? Besides, the damage is done. Did you see that kid videoing the whole thing? It's probably been FaceBooked by now, or worse."
"Maybe," she said, "but that also means your words are being spread. Believe it or not, there are people out there who are capable of separating the idea from the source. Who knows?"
Carson mounted the stage. "Aside from that last bit," he said, "I think it went fine. So what are you two going to do now?"
"I'm heading back to Kendrik House," Althea said, "and Councilman Flange is late for an appointment at City Hall. But I would like to ask you something, Mr. Carson."