By Bill Mosley
Damian Brooks and Carlton Vandergraft stepped off the bus and into a neighborhood that the vaunted revitalization of the Douglass Commonwealth had not yet touched. But then, they were far outside DC’s confines and well into the exurbs. It had been a long time since they’d seen a place like this, with houses in disrepair and trash in the gutters. One of those places – hard to call them “communities” – that had resisted the socialist government’s programs to tidy them up.
“Where exactly are we?” Vandergraft said, staring at the weedy lots and trees that, even well into spring, had refused to bear leaves. He was surprised that a bus even went to such a place, a testament to how much AOC’s government had expanded public transportation. Public transportation had changed a lot of places, but not this scrubby enclave.
“Somewhere in Virginia. I forget the town’s name, if you can call it a town,” said Brooks grimly. “But this is the stop he said to use.”
“Yeah, about this guy. Stockwell, I think you said his name was?”
“Stockworth,” Brooks corrected.
“Yeah, Stockworth,” Vandergraft said as he followed Brooks’ lead. “What did he say he wanted? Why did he contact you?”
“He wants to join the movement,” Brooks answered with determination. “He hates the new socialist regime as much as we do.”
“Yeah, but why you?”
“Our reputation is getting around,” Brooks said. “Our organization is becoming known as the brains of the resistance.”
“Organization? You, me, and Borenstein meet for margaritas weekly and complain about the government,” Vandergraft said. After a pause, he added, “Maybe we’re the liver of the resistance.” He chuckled, but Brooks did not.
Brooks looked at his companion with irritation. “We’ve done a lot more than that. How about our January 6 memorial rally? How about our social media presence? I’ve been hearing from more people who want to work with us.”
Vandergraft was about to say all the participants in the rally could have fit in his coat closet with room to spare, and their social media followers numbered in the low three digits, but he demurred to avoid further antagonizing his friend. Instead they walked past ill-kept houses along a street without sidewalks. Not that they were necessary – no vehicles passed them, not that there were a lot of private cars left anyway.
“And didn’t he say something about wanting to show us his guns?” Vandergraft asked. “Are these real guns, or is he some sort of bodybuilder?”
Brooks continued to bear an expression of irritation. “We’ll find out when we get there,” he grouched. “Now, be quiet while I find this place.” While deflecting his friend’s queries, he watched his phone to direct himself with GPS.
“Ah, right turn here,” Brooks said. “This must be Willow Street.” There was no sign, but with the advent of GPS, many of them had disappeared and not been replaced.
A trio of rats feasting on garbage scurried out of the way as the men passed, and Vandergraft gasped at the sight of them, although Brooks, his face buried in his phone, seemed not to notice. The only person in sight was a scraggly man sitting in a tiny yard, eyeing them with apparent suspicion.
“Ah, that must be it,” he said, pointing at a house straight ahead. “Number 117.”
Vandergraft also noticed the number, although the seven was hanging upside down, seeming to read “1-1-L.” But he paid more attention to the house, an old frame shotgun shack with peeling paint, a sagging porch, and a roof missing half its tiles. “What a wreck,” Vandergraft mused.
“The guy’s real hardcore,” Brooks said. “No doubt refused to take dirty government money to fix the place up.”
Brooks approached the porch as Vandergraft hung back. “I dunno, Damian,” Vandergraft said. “I don’t like the looks of this.”
Brooks turned to his companion, looking more irritated than ever. “Look, if we’re going to overthrow the socialist government, we have to cultivate people like this. If you’re too scared…”
Vandergraft was indeed scared, but he was more afraid to walk back to the stop and wait for a bus by himself in this – well – not exactly inviting neighborhood. “Okay, I’m coming,” he said, exhaling to relieve his tension.
As Brooks stepped onto the porch, a board creaked, and he could hear voices inside. They were clearly coming from a TV or other electronic source. After two quick knocks, the voices fell silent.
“Yeah? Who’s there?” a lone voice, this time clearly a live human one, shouted.
“Damian Brooks!” Brooks shouted through the closed door. “We texted, remember?”
The sound of heavy footsteps thudded toward the door. It opened but only as far as a chain would allow. Into the opening popped a stubbly face topped by a dirty baseball cap.
“Brooks, huh?” the face’s mouth growled. “Anybody with ya?’
“Just my friend, here,” he said, pointing to Vandergraft. “He’s one of – uh – us.”
The man – whom Brooks was now certain was indeed Stockworth – looked at Vandergraft suspiciously. “Sure we can trust him?”
Vandergraft thought this might present an opening to flee, but he kept silent. “Of course!” Brooks answered. “He’s a true enemy of socialism!”
Vandergraft’s pride swelled a bit at the newly bestowed title. Stockworth finally said, “Okay, you can come in.”
He removed the chain and pulled open the door. The two men walked into a dimly lit and sparse living room. The only furniture was a couch, an easy chair with torn fabric, and a rug that could stand shampooing. By a lone lamp, the only lighting with the shades drawn, he could detect peeling paint and what looked like bullet holes in the wall.
“Ned Stockworth,” he said, shaking Brooks’ hand, and then Vandergraft’s reluctantly offered one. “So, what’s your group called again?”
“The Oldboys Club,” Vandergraft piped up.
Brooks looked at his companion with irritation. “That’s not its name. That’s what we call our – er – little drinking club. Our political organization is called the People’s ..” Here he paused for a second until the full name formed in his head. “People’s Alliance for Freedom.” Yeah, that’s it, he almost said aloud.
“Uh huh,” Stockworth said warily. “How many members ya got?”
“Well, we have over a hundred social media followers. Our rallies have drawn quite a few . . .’
“Three,” Vandergraft interrupted. “We have three.”
Stockworth looked at the two as if in disbelief. Finally, he said, “Okay, if I can trust ya, I’ll show you what I’ve got.”
“Uh – sure,” Brooks said, although he’d been hoping to discern Stockworth’s political leanings first. Maybe after he showed them around. They walked into a hallway where a door opened to a staircase leading downward. Stockworth flipped a light switch and took the lead, Brooks followed, and Vandergraft, after a few seconds’ pause, tentatively brought up the rear.
The stairs groaned like ghosts as the three men descended. Brooks stifled a curse as he bumped his head on the low ceiling, while Stockworth crouched and the shorter Vandergraft passed with ease.
The unfinished basement was cluttered with the detritus of a disorganized bachelor homeowner: an uncoiled hose, a shelf with stained paint cans, a dining chair with most of the seat missing. The place smelled like a combination of motor oil and dead rodents.
On one wall, a greasy tarp hung by nails. Stockworth pushed aside the tarp to reveal a door behind it. He retrieved a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. As Stockworth opened it, the others could see only darkness inside until he pulled a cord, and an overhead light popped on.
Both visitors gasped as they saw the contents of the closet. Guns, guns, and more guns. Long guns, pistols, and guns of every shape and description. Also, shelves of ammunition in boxes or on belts.
“This is what I call the arsenal of democracy,” Stockworth beamed. “I got AR-15s, AK-9s, AK-47s, an AAC Honey Badger, a couple of SIGS – about every kind of assault weapon available. Or –” here his smile turned upside down – “what used to be available.”
“Holy crap,” Brooks said. “Where did you get this stuff?”
“Do they still make assault rifles?” Vandergraft said nervously.
“Yeah, but they don’t sell ‘em to civilians anymore,” Stockworth hissed. “Even the military is phasing ‘em out. The manufacturers that didn’t close shop moved to other countries. You have any idea how many American jobs that was?” Brooks was about to hazard a guess before Stockworth continued. “I bought all this before they passed the law. AOC and her flunkies – they made it all illegal.”
“How many guns are in here?” Brooks asked.
“I figure I got 30 long guns, almost that many pistols,” he said. “When they started talking about banning ‘em I stocked up. Lots of other folks did too.” He picked up an AR-15 and cradled it lovingly.
“So, you decided not to sell them during the buyback?” Vandergraft asked. “I mean, the government was paying people a thousand dollars each for guns like these.” And with no questions asked for one year, he recalled. A lot of gun enthusiasts suddenly got rich.
“Screw the buyback!” Stockworth spat. “That’s how the socialists tried to shut down dissent. Take people’s guns, and they can’t fight back. Well, not me. I know a few other guys with a stash like mine. Some bigger.”
“But you could get arrested for this,” Vandergraft said. “Remember that guy in Manassas? He didn’t have this many guns, and they threw the book at him.”
“Fuck that!” Stockworth hissed with such fury that Vandergraft was sorry he’d spoken. “Jail don’t scare me none. If they come after my guns I’m gonna use ‘em.”
“The guy didn’t go to jail,” Brooks corrected. “They confiscated the guns and sentenced him to community service. You have to be pretty dangerous to go to prison these days…” He stopped himself before launching into one of his laments about the ongoing dismantling of the carceral state. Here, the socialist so-called reforms had benefitted one of their people…
Stockworth seemed not to hear Brooks’ last remark and continued, “If anybody tries to grab my guns, that will be a call to start the uprising. We have a secret network, see? All of us keeping in touch in case the feds come after us. One word, and we’ll be in the streets, locked and loaded. We’re not gonna let any more guns get seized.”
Brooks seemed at a rare loss for words for a few seconds, before finally speaking. “Okay, it was great to see you and your – er – arsenal. But we’d better get going, right, Carlton?’
“Oh yes, yes, yes,” Vandergraft replied eagerly.
“Well, are you in or out?” Stockworth suddenly asked.
“What do you mean, in or out?” Brooks asked back.
“Why I invited you here,” Stockworth said. “I can’t shoot all these guns by myself. We need numbers. Bodies. To carry the guns and use ‘em. When the time comes and the call goes out.”
If he needs numbers he’s talking to the wrong people, Vandergraft thought.
“Of course, you’ll need to be trained. I take it you’re not gun people,” Stockworth said, and he didn’t need to wait for an answer. “We have a secret practice range – I can’t tell ya where it is, but it’s a far piece out. Away from prying eyes and ears, ya know.”
Here Brooks looked around as if for an escape route. “Well, er, N-Ned,” he stammered, fumbling for words, “we’re right now kind of at the – what would you call it – public education phase of the movement. Winning over people with arguments about the evils of socialism, pointing out how AOC has brainwashed the masses, that kind of thing. An armed uprising – I mean, maybe someday, but don’t you think that’s premature?”
Stockworth looked at both men with a wry smile. “Just as I thought,” he said. “College boys. Talk the talk but won’t walk the walk.” He spat, just missing Brooks’ shoe. “Well, we don’t need ya. We’ve got people. We’re gonna get more.” After a pause, he added with a grin, “When the bullets start to fly, be careful not to get caught in the crossfire. Know what I mean?” He pointed his rifle at the chest of Brooks, who instinctively took a step backward, stepping on the toe of Vandergraft’s who stifled a yelp.
“Heh, heh,” Stockworth chuckled. “I wouldn’t waste a round on the likes of you. It ain’t loaded anyway.”
“Well,” Brooks said, regaining his composure, “thanks for the tour. Nice to meet you. Time for us to get back to town.”
“Yeah, I reckon it is,” Stockworth said with a hint of menace.
The three returned upstairs, Brooks and Vandergraft taking the steps at double speed. With a quick wave to Stockworth they were out the door and quickly striding down the derelict street.
“Glad to be out of there,” Vandergraft said, looking over his shoulder and feeling relieved that Stockworth wasn’t watching them leave.
“The guy’s heart is in the right place,” Brooks said. “But an armed uprising? It’s much too early for that.”
“Like you told him,” Vandergraft said, “AOC has the people brainwashed. The government gave them a basic income, health care, and so many goodies that they were bought off. But…”
“Well, you know we were saying that the gun ban wouldn’t stop murders, that the criminals would hold onto their guns?”
“Yeah?” Brooks answered.
“But I was reading in the New York Times that gun killings are a fraction of what they were before the ban,” Vandergraft answered.
“You still read the New York Times? That commie propaganda?” Brooks snarled. “They’re keeping the facts from us. Besides, if shootings are down, at what cost? The cost of people’s sacred right to own a gun!”
Vandergraft thought a moment, and then asked, “Do you own a gun?’
“I thought about getting one. But now it’s too late, isn’t it?”
“Hunting rifles are still legal, with a permit.”
“Who wants to go through all the red tape of getting a permit these days?” Brooks answered. “Besides, I see us as…”
“Yeah, yeah, the brains of the resistance,” Vandergraft interrupted. “You don’t have to convince me. Guns give me the willies.”
By then they were at the bus stop, and within a couple of minutes the electric bus pulled up almost silently. Once they were on board the door of the driverless vehicle closed and they were being whisked back to the city.
“I think this bus stops at Maria’s, right?” Vandergraft asked. “It’s almost time to meet Lou for happy hour.”
“Close enough,” Brooks said, staring out the window.