Alright, hopefully we can get through this today!
Marshall begins, in reporterly fashion, by confirming some details: Strachan left about a year prior, replaced by Ralph Kuklinski. Dear lord, Peretti psychically knew I’d be doing this with a physical book and couldn’t copy-paste names and hated me so he made them hard to spell. I keep typing Staunen rather than Strachan thanks to my reading gaming books earlier this week (Staunen is a catalyst in Genius: The Transgression).
Anyway, he asks if Ralph was in on the ‘Inner Circle’, and
Strachan assumes he was since he got elected okay. Screw it. I’m not typing that name again. I’m just going to call him E.S, for Eldon Strawhatever. It’s too nice a day to correct typos multiple times.
E.S claims that the ‘Inner Circle’ all think and talk alike — so a typical clique then. He admits he didn’t fit in, and this segues under Marshall’s guidance into discussing the financial troubles. It seems the dean kept hearing complaints about bills being paid late, payrolls being behind, et cetera. He asked the accountant for the university about it and, noticing he was getting vague answers back, hired an independent accountant to go over the books.
Bernice speaks! She asks for the name of the accountant. We receive that. It’s unclear who asks how to reach him but it can be assumed to be her as well. We’re told he’s dead. Marshall takes over again.
He didn’t leave any records behind, and without proof, E.S couldn’t go to the attorney general. And obviously that was the only accountant in the world so there was no way he could prove his case, so therefore he dropped everything and left town. Because that’s the only choice he had.
The accountant had told him that there was a huge mess resulting in millions of money vanishing from college accounts with no clue to where it was going. E.S called for an audit and the accountant for the university (Eugene Baylor) blew up, making everything personal. Therefore, E.S was smeared and voted out.
Bernice speaks! She asks why they wanted to undermine the financial base of the college. E.S has no idea what they were trying to do but that the college was likely to go bankrupt unless they had a way to make te money back. Marshall takes over again, asking about Langstrat.
E.S gets the idea that Langstrat is the influence and mentor and someone higher up, “some unseen authority”, is controlling her. He has no idea who or what that might be. She graduated from UCLA; I wondered why there specifically instead of UCSB or UCSF or a liberal arts school, and turned up this book excerpt about a woman named Starhawk, founder of one of the larger pagan traditions. She attended UCLA in the late 60’s and actually taught a course on witchcraft, later forming a coven. Maybe Peretti was referencing her? Langstrat was “involved in some kind of neo-pagan religious group in California”, after all.
E.S was “surprised to find that her teachings had aroused a lot of interest. Her beliefs and practices were not only spreading among the students, but also among the faculty.” I’m reminded of many Christian leaders who on one hand encourage spreading Jesus across the world to every student on every campus and on the other hand are horrified when other religions try to do the same.
Marshall asks for names of who believe in Langstrat’s religion, and is given a list of names in the Psychology, Humanities, and Philosophies departments, as well as the biology and premed departments. Anyone have any idea why those last two? Because I’m a little stumped unless this is some kind of jab at evolution.
Bernice points out that he’s mentioned turnover a couple of times; she moves the list around and asks him how many people on it were hired in the last six years. E.S appears to have never noticed this before, but identifies most of the names as newcomers. So the whole “spreading” thing isn’t accurate; she’s not converting people, she’s replacing them. E.S is “visibly shaken”.
“Our campus was invaded and our faculty displaced by a–a madness!”
[…]Marshall had a flashback, a quick, fleeting memory of his daughter Sandy saying “People around here are starting to act weird. I think we’re being invaded by aliens.”
I can’t take this seriously. Lolwut. Alternative religious beliefs are not that uncommon. Has Peretti ever met a pagan outside of a religious context? We go to the grocery store and buy groceries and take chem class just like everyone else, people. Sometimes we even live on farms with collies and chickens. In fact, a lot of us prefer to have nature around us like that. It ties into some of our religious beliefs. Now, if everyone around me was talking about being hungry for the Word and casting out demons and praying in arcades and babbling about conspiracies, I’d be a little weirded out.
The classes Langstrat was teaching started as an “alternative education program”. Lolwut. At least that explains their total irrelevance to university education.
“and now we have a great percentage of the staff and the student body…. bewitched.”
This kind of talk leads to witch-hunts. McCarthy would be delighted to get his hands on the list of names you’ve been compiling. Do you really want to evoke that kind of imagery when representing a religion with such a bloody history?
The board of regents has also been taken over, and their names re listed as well. Bernice makes a superfluous comment, but it’s Marshall’s offhand remark that sparks more information: Harmel, the previous editor of the Clarion, was bullied and backed into a corner.
“When they found they couldn’t control him anymore — he has myself and our friendship to blame for that — they arranged to defame him and chase him out of town with that rediculous scandal.”
“Hmmmm,” said Bernice. “A conflict of interest.”
Huh? I don’t follow, Bernice. It doesn’t matter anyway, because ES keeps talking. Apparently Harmel was on their side after all: they promised him success with the paper if he aligned with them, but then they went after his friend, so he was torn between the truth (along with his friendship) and the group’s philosophy and practices. NOW it makes sense to talk about a conflict of interest. He printed stories about the financial troubles and the group kicked him out.
“Yes,” Bernice recalled. “Now I remember him saying they were trying to control him and dictate what he printed. He was really mad about it.”
Wait. So. You’re investigating a shadowy undercover group. A year ago, your previous boss investigated this group and got run out of town for scandal. He made it clear he was pissed at the group for unethical practices. But that doesn’t ever come to mind until someone else mentions it?
They start to realize that a lot of good honest people in Ashton are either dead or no longer in Ashton. E.S warns Marshall that their power is incredibly vast, even he has no idea how vast, and that they’ll destroy anyone in their way. Marshall, realizing E.S and Ted are still friends who fish and hunt together, asks E.S to see if he can’t get Ted to talk to Marshall. E.S says he’ll ask but he refuses to try and bully him into it. With a last word of caution about not being invincible and risking everything, this section ends.
Meanwhile, back at the Clarion, Tom the pasteup man is getting the ads together all alone. Remember, the staff is only three people large, and Marshall keeps dragging Bernice off on his own personal quest.
Carmen, the schizophrenic who visited Hank, shows up at the door asking about the secretary position. Tom hires her on the spot. Isn’t Marshall in charge? Shouldn’t he be consulted? It doesn’t matter, however: Carmen is hot and therefore does not need to be qualified or approved by the boss.
And that’s chapter sixteen!