Chapter 14 - Office Assault
Chuck stepped from the cool tour bus into a hot, muggy Sacramento morning. The air was as still as a dead cat in a plastic bag. Oldtimers would have called it earthquake weather. Actually, an earthquake probably would have been more welcome than five buses of homeless activists on the government's doorstep. But the government didn't even know it had visitors yet.
The whole gang boiled out of the buses like bees headed for their favorite flower. In this case, that flower was the capitol building. In a maneuver that would have infuriated General Patton, each man crazily headed for his idea of a choice spot. It looked like the disembarkation of the Gray Line Tour from Hell.
Chuck called out, "Remember men, be inconspicuous. That's what'll get us in there to talk to the suits."
This was tough for some of the guys. After years of invisibility, they suddenly had to consciously try to be ignored. It was obvious that some of them were trying too hard. They stood out like Godzilla on a schoolyard.
Chuck yelled out, "You guys over there, you're doing a great job. But you're making the rest of us look bad. Lighten up a little, okay?"
This seemed to lift everyone's burden. The entire group suddenly blended in with the alley rats and loose trash in the service area.
From the corner of his eye, Chuck glimpsed what appeared to be a perfectly tanned, frozen toe, loose in the garbage. But more important details grabbed his attention elsewhere. The mountaineering college boys were ready to start phase one of the group's assault on the capitol.
The climbing hooks went up, up, and out of sight over the edge. Each hook either crashed firmly into the side of the massive stone facade, or it spiraled back and tried to bite the man who had tossed it. Their special task was to get into the building through the unguarded second floor and open an unmanned fire door for the rest of the delegation.
While the young climbers worked, Matthius paced the service lane complaining nervously. "I am uneasy with all of this sneaking about. We should march in, heads high, as if we own the place, which we do. Let the government of man know that we will not tolerate his neglect and disrespect for one more day. They cannot stop us, we have the power of righteousness on our side. They will stand aside, put down their weapons and join us, or they will be swept away!"
The words grabbed at Chuck's guts, but he shook it off. Emotions were for another time. Right now, he had a protest to run. Despite his peaceful nature, there wasn't time to argue about right versus wrong. Chuck took Matthius aside and quickly convinced him to shut up until they all got safely inside.
Matthius seemed to take the suggestion to heart as he wiped a trickle of blood from the fresh cut on his mouth.
"Let's go men," Morgan shouted aa the college boys scaled the wall to the roof on the one story section of the building. The early morning sun was bright enough to insure that all the curtains and blinds were still pulled shut along that eastern section of the second floor. Their homework had paid off.
Matthius abandoned the ground crew to grab a little personal glory. He haltingly hoisted himself up one of the ropes behind the younger men.
It was easy to kick in the window of the office closest to the corner. Morgan hoped that the office workers would take it all with some kind of good humor. He didn't want to hurt anybody, unless they annoyed him. He didn't want to admit it, but his ROTC training had helped.
The advance team poured in through the gutted window frame so smoothly that an observer might have thought their butts were greased. But there was no observer. The four young men stealthily slinked through the broken glass on the desktop, then dropped to the floor. Matthius sloppily imitated their motions.
Although the office was open for the day, everybody's coffee mug was curiously missing. The advance team breathed a little easier, but pumping adrenaline made each man jumpy.
Matthius piped up, "The minions of darkness are out eating donuts, instead of doing Satan's work as they are paid to do. Is this the state capitol or a police station?" His observation cut the tension as they chuckled their way out of the office and onto the adjacent stairway.
Their penetration had apparently gone unnoticed so far. Jason and Freddy bounded down the stairs to the fire door. They expected to find some kind of audible alarm attached to the door's panic bar. They weren't disappointed.
Jason had grabbed a fire axe from the emergency station on the way down. He was ready for action. "This one's for you Freddy," Jason yelled as he dismembered the red metal alarm box. He silenced it before it could scream for help from the security guards.
The door soon popped open to the faces of dozens of their eager comrades. Chuck quietly motioned for the men to slip into the stairwell to prepare for their opening round. The capitol lay vulnerable.
"Now the politicians will have to listen to us," Matthius quietly pledged. "They can't ignore us this time. Not this time."
They scaled the stairs and broke into smaller groups as they travelled. Matthius led the main body and headed for the floor of the Legislature to add their thoughts to the debate on legal rights for the homeless.
Meanwhile, Chuck guided Vega and Rudy down the corridor to the Speaker's office. Chuck tensely bit his lip. He had no idea how this was going to work. Would the trio simply stroll into the office and grab the ear of the Speaker of the Assembly, or would they be stopped at the door?
He was starting to wish he had thought out the details better. But how much can you plan something like this anyway? He shook off the doubts as they approached the ornate door.
"Speaker of the Assembly of the State of California, The Honorable Richard P. Weede," Rudy read aloud from the ornate metal plaque. "Well, this may be Dick Weede's office, but I'm not sure how honorable he is," he chuckled wickedly.
They pushed through the heavy wooden doors and into the speaker's lushly decadent reception area. Chuck felt all his blood drain into his shoes as the matronly woman behind the mahogany and marble counter made eye contact from behind the grove of potted dwarf maple trees that lined the center of the office.
"Well good, you're here," she scolded, "They're waiting for you, go on in." Chuck glanced at his comrades, who were ready to follow his lead.
He felt the blood rush back out of his footwear. It was a good thing, since he was scared enough to piss in his boots and needed the extra space. The three took a collective gulp and stepped toward the inner chamber.
"Gentlemen, come on in," the Speaker warmly greeted them. "You're just in time to help us with this strategy session." His voice was somewhat hard to hear over the waterfall that gushed from the artificial rockface in the right wall of the inner office.
"How the hell could this guy have known we were coming?" Chuck wondered to himself.
Although they each wore their best facial non-expressions, he didn't need ESP to know that his thoughts echoed those of his companions. As the trio walked through the cavernous office, they noticed that the chairs had been arranged so that only one face was visible from the door. It was face of Speaker Weede.
Several tall leather chairs surrounded the conference table. As they got closer, the could see that the chairs that faced them were empty. But hands grasped the arms of two chairs that faced away.
The upholstered leather chair legs rested alongside twitchy human legs that were covered in suit trousers. A meeting was obviously in progress. But what kind?
"I'm sure you gentlemen know these two men," the Speaker stated confidently. As he continued, two faces snaked curiously around the backs of their chairs. "Let me introduce Governor Oral Peckerwood on your left, and Mr. Theodore Peen on your extreme right. I'm sure you know who they are."
The knot in Chuck's stomach retied itself. He recognized Governor Peckerwood from the newspapers that lined his dumpster bed. And though the face wasn't familiar. Chuck knew that Peen owned and operated many of the state's most influential companies and politicians.
"You three are probably curious about why we called you here today," the Speaker blandly announced. "We have serious business to discuss and this is a pivotal time for all of us."
"What in the name of hell are you talking about? You don't even know who we are. Maybe you wouldn't be so smug if you knew over two hundred of us have joined the debate on the homeless in the state assembly while you're sittin' there in on your finely upholstered, overstuffed butt." Chuck knew he was starting to lose it, so he shut up.
"Please, Mr. Jackson," Weede continued, "Let's not quibble.
You and your 217 friends came up here from LA in five chartered buses last night. Buses that one of Mr. Peen's companies provided. You made this trip because we have business. Since the principals are all here, I call this meeting to order. Please join us here at the table and we'll get to work."
"Listen Weede, there's something dirty goin' on in here, and you and your friends are undoubtedly behind it. If you've got something to discuss, discuss it in public so everyone in the state can hear it for themselves. Let the people decide how things get done. No more of your government by brute force and ignorance."
"Thank you Mr. Jackson, but as you will notice, there are no TV cameras or microphones here. Please save the rhetoric for after the meeting. As I said, we have business."
The Speaker's admonition wasn't entirely accurate. Although not from the networks, several secret TV cameras swept every angle of the inner office.
If you brought a clandestine tape recorder into this room, it wouldn't pick up anything but the strategically loud sound of the waterfall. But three permanent directional microphones tracked each word, except in one small area near the waterfall known only to Weede, and possibly a few political victims who were no longer in a position to harm him.
Weede had videotaped many political deals in this room. But none of the tapes could ever be used against the Speaker. He was too crafty to Nixon himself, despite deals sharper than any old Tricky Dick would ever have tried. If he didn't want a statement on tape, he'd casually wander to the waterfall at the important moment, then make any potentially indictable statements where they wouldn't be recorded.
"Let's stop the small talk and get on with it," snapped Governor Peckerwood as Weede started to pace behind the desk.
Chuck pulled up a chair next to Peckerwood, his mind desperate to make sense of the situation. Vega chose the spot closest to Peen. Rudy uneasily pressed his hams against the unfamiliar leather chair by Weede. Chuck thought Rudy seemed especially agitated by this encounter.
That's when Rudy reached deep into his pocket and pulled out a surprise. It was a big, nasty looking handgun. The kind that can make ordinary men into villains or martyrs, depending on which end they're on when business is conducted. There was no mistaking Rudy's expression and body language; he was about to conduct business.
As he menaced Peen's face with the weapon, Rudy made demands. "Governor, I want you to take off that fine suit jacket and tie of yours and give it to Mr. Jackson. Mr. Peen, please show the same kindness to Mr. Cortez."
He continued as the two power merchants removed the symbols of their positions from neck and torso. "I've spent some time reading about negotiating, and it seems that you have us at a serious disadvantage. I'm just gonna even things out a little."
Governor Peckerwood handed his finely tailored jacket and imported silk tie to Chuck, who tenuously slipped into the coat. Chuck fumbled with the unfamiliar neck decoration. It had once been a daily routine, but the old skill had somehow escaped his digital memory.
"Help the man with his tie, Gov," Rudy snarled.
"I don't know what you think you'll accomplish by all this foolishness, gentlemen, but you must know you'll never walk out of here alive," Peckerwood barked.
"Just stop your mealy mouthed yap and tie that tie for the man."
In his fear and haste, the Governor tied Chuck's tie beautifully, but much too tightly.
"Back it off a little or I'll personally kick your ass," Chuck gasped. The governor quickly complied.
"Yeah, that's better. Hey, this jacket even matches my pants. How does it look to you, Rudy?"
Rudy, obviously impressed, slowly nodded his approval while Peen upgraded Vega's image with his sartorial donations. Vega needed no help with his tie, and he looked even more distinguished in the industrialist's black Brooks Brothers than Peen himself. The transformation was awesome.
Chuck made a mental note to personally thank the Hollywood Hairdressers' Alliance for the Homeless for the excellent shaves and perfectly styled hair they had donated the previous afternoon and evening.
Rudy was obviously jealous of how good his comrades looked in their new clothes. "It's my turn, Mr. Weede; Mr. Cortez, would you do the honors?" Rudy asked as he stepped toward Vega and turned the weapon over to his compatriot.
Vega's hand gently caressed the guns warm, smooth butt. He felt a sudden rush in his groin, but kept the muzzle pointed at Peen's head.
Like a trained animal, Weede peeled off his dark blue business uniform and gave it to Rudy. Then he surrendered the beautiful tie his mistress had given him only a few days before he threw her out.
As he pulled his new duds on, Rudy explained himself.
"You see, in business, the man with the nicest, darkest suit usually wins. Oh, there's a lot of talking and dancing that goes on first, but that's pretty much how it works."
Although the logic of the statement cranked Peen's brain for a moment, he threw it off as he spoke. "So what you're saying is that the people in charge keep their positions because they know how to dress?"
"No, of course not. I'm not as ignorant or simplistic as you seem to think," Rudy snapped defensively as he knotted his new tie. "I'm saying that people like you stay in power because other people think you're powerful. They're only too happy to suck your dick because they think you'll appreciate their sacrifice somehow and take care of them. People almost always suck up to the man in the expensive dark suit because they don't have the guts to stand up for what they think is right."
Weede uneasily shifted his weight from one leg to the other. The governor and Chuck were intent on Rudy's words and the gun that lay pliantly in Vega's hand as he kept talking.
"Yeah, people know they shouldn't let you guys do what you do. So they tell themselves, 'It's wrong, but I've got to think of my family.' You're a bunch of weasels who feed on their weakness. Well, now we're the ones with the clothes to respect. You can bargain in your shirts, just like peasants." Rudy sounded as though believed every word of his pronouncement.
"You're missing an important part of the formula Mr. Robinson." It was the governor. "No matter how you dress or what you think of yourself, you lack the connections to make things happen. You don't have the juice."
"You want juice, I'll show you juice. Give my gun back, Vega."
Engrossed by the situation and the rhetoric, Vega offered the gun's nicely curved butt to Rudy without stepping closer to his partner. Weede lunged forward and grabbed the weapon. He barely got his hair mussed as he wrestled the gun from Vega's hand. All six men were on their feet, ready for action.
A metallic click announced the breeched latch as the outer door exploded open, powered by a police issue boot. The SWAT team stormed the office and reflexively aimed their weapons.
Chuck looked deep into the eyes of a young corporal who had reared up at the back of the office. They both knew this game was over, but never let it show in their determined faces.
These weren't ordinary officers. They were some of the finest marksmen in the state. Within a heartbeat, several rounds of their high powered ammunition found home.
Three skulls exploded in sync with the gunfire. The fine mahogany desk suddenly sported gobbets that looked like sculptured pink-gray tofu mixed with a thick red sauce. Shards that could have been from a broken china bowl glistened in the carnage. Patches of hair were homogenized throughout.
Chunks of meat clung to the wall and ceiling. Thick blood mixed with cottage cheese sized bits of brain drooled onto the thick carpet from the walls, ceiling and desk.
The maid was going to shit when she saw this mess.
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