By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
A meeting was called. "It's disinformation!" one member yelled. "The liberals obviously have taken over the phone system and are trying to discredit our Rob!"
But that theory was soon dismissed -- no government, not even one run by Democratic-socialist-liberals, would spend so much time on the phone trying to discredit an opponent.
Despondency reigned in the underground world. Group leader Johnny, sensing the crisis, offered his own theory. "Look, folks, Bert Keller got caught driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident, right? He's a stand-up, tough-on-crime guy, so he must have done the honorable thing and accepted a jail sentence, right?"
"I guess," the residents said, knowing that even if he wasn't in jail, Keller would be very, very busy doing all his required community service work. And concentrating on not drinking or getting further traffic tickets.
"Now that means Rob can't keep in touch with Bert," Johnny continued. "But remember what was happening just before we came down here? The impeachment, the Monica mess. Rob can't talk to Bert, but he's trying to keep him informed. All that dirty talk is just him reading the Starr Report to Bert's wife so she can pass it on to Bert when she visits him."
Heads nodded. Johnny couldn't be sure if they bought it or not. But like a good leader, he knew they'd believe it because they wanted to believe it.
"And you can bet Rob reimbursed the city for all that cell-phone use, too," he added, for good measure.
Still, disquiet grew. Perhaps things were turning completely topsy-turvy up above. Was it possible that they were doomed to live underground for the rest of their lives?
Johnny again demonstrated the leadership that made him Salesman of the Month three months running at the gun shop. He ruled that one person be sent Up to reconnoiter.
Unwittingly, he unleashed the Second Crisis of Confidence.
Joe was picked as the man for the job. Levelheaded, they said. A good observer.
The plan was to send him downtown to survey the situation. Was grass growing on the streets? Were River Oaks matrons on the corners selling Steuben bowls for food? Had construction begun on the convention center hotel?
The residents braced themselves for bad news. But they never expected to hear what they did.
A wild-eyed Joe sat in the main room. He had run back home as fast as he could, and his was a tale that shook the residents to their very souls.
"It was awful," Joe said. "I went downtown, and there was this huge rally. People were in the streets screaming and cheering and worshiping this one man on stage. I can't begin to tell --"
"Who was this man?" Johnny barked. "Who has taken control of the masses? Was it Lee Brown? Was it one of Bill Clinton's stooges? Please tell me it was Tom DeLay, or at least Steve Hotze!"
"N-n-no," Joe stammered. "It was Bob McNair."
"Bob McNair?" a resident asked. "The guy who bought that new NFL team that they're going to name the Texans?"
"That's the guy. He was up there on stage, and every politician you could name was giving speeches saying he was the greatest person alive for what he had done," Joe said.
"What? Paying $700 million for a football team? There has to be more to it," Johnny said.
"There may be, but I was too scared to find out. That crowd was fanatical, I'm telling you. And every TV station and radio station was in town, and a bunch of reporters from the Chronicle."
Ominous visions -- directed by Leni Riefenstahl -- popped up in everyone's heads. Beer-soaked crowds following a Great Man, one who promised distractions from their sordid and dreary lives, one who pledged to restore the tradition of what once was.
"Maybe the media was there to expose this movement and nip it in the bud," one hopeful resident said.
"Not a chance -- they were in on the cover-up," Joe snorted. "Here was this big rally, here were all these worshipful speeches, and if you read the paper or watched TV they would have had you believe it was all just a ceremony to announce the name of the new football team."
"The name? Hell, even we knew it was going to be the Texans," Johnny said. "What kind of idiot goes downtown to hear a name being announced? What kind of media outlet would just give it fawning press-release coverage?"
Slowly, the realization came. There was some kind of sinister political movement going on above ground. Bob McNair was raising an army of unquestioning, worshipful fanatics to do his will. And the media was all a part of it.
"We're staying down here," Johnny said, before going off to brood.
Houston, it seemed, had indeed given in to post-Y2K chaos.
Tempers grew short in the bunker. Johnny had known this would happen, so as a precaution he had taped a year's worth of the cheery light-and-bright stories that Channel 13's Dave Ward offered viewers at the end of the ten o'clock news each night.