Chapter 15 - Floor Fight
Anybody who's ever seen the real California Legislature knows they're a lot less stuffy than the stereotype that molders in most people's minds. They belie the mystic vision of humorless old men who sit quietly behind neat desks and give sober consideration to every word that's spoken on each issue, a reassuring scene that's straight out of Jimmy Stewart's performance in Mr. Smith goes to Washington. It's all hogwash, of course.
This particular morning started out quite normally. Enough legislators had dragged in to make things more or less legal. A quorum could probably be rounded up if the homeless proposal went along as quickly as the leadership planned. They'd already started through the motions of a debate before adjournment the afternoon before.
The usual speakers made the usual statements in preparation for the usual vote with the usual results. Nothing unusual was expected, at least not by anybody outside the Speaker's office upstairs.
It wasn't a regular session, so the TV cameras didn't loom out through the doors at the back of the hall. That meant the members didn't have to put on their fake TV behavior.
One bald, bespectacled legislator zoomed across the Assembly floor with a stuffed crow in his hand. The late bird had benefitted from the expert services of a taxidermist. He looked better than he'd ever been seen alive, and he was free of the flea and lice infestations that had plagued his mortal days. The only negative side of it for the bird was that he was firmly mounted on a wooden base, and of course, entirely dead.
He was a dubious award, given to the politician who had most recently been forced to eat crow. As the assemblyman cruised the room, he made "caw, caw, caw" noises, occasionally taking the time to swoop down and menace a colleague with the bird's beak.
Nobody in the chamber knew that the state assembly was about to become involved in the most bitter floor fight in California history. Nothing so insignificant as Democrat against Republican, nor even northern interests vs. southern interests. This was to be a showdown between representatives and constituents, with representatives outnumbered five to one.
When Morgan's band burst through a set of heavy wooden doors, the sergeant at arms and staff were taken by surprise. Before security could react, Matthius' force pressed through a second entrance.
Lulled into torpor by the unceasing routine and apparent uselessness of their jobs, the guard force was quickly overpowered and disarmed by the sheer crush of the homeless, enhanced by a few quick moves by Morgan's boys. The guards were quickly shackled with nylon tie wraps.
Assembly Leader Pro-Tern Harold Stoate vainly pounded his gavel to restore order, but the homeless mob wasn't impressed by the noise or the man with the hammer.
Matthius fought his way across a floor covered by abandoned paper airplanes and discarded junk food wrappers. As he reached the podium, he rudely dismissed the gavel pounder. Most of the crowd cheered, but a minority bloc made up almost exclusively of legislators and staff shouted their outrage at the very thought that the unelected, and apparently unwashed masses should presume to take charge of their own government.
After a few futile shoving matches and a bit of amateur fisticuffs, the entire Assembly quieted down and feigned respect for Matthius' authority. Several desks were upside down when the fracas ended, which wasn't surprising, since they'd been flipped during horseplay before the homeless invasion force had even arrived.
As soon as the new order was installed, Morgan's ordered his squadron of college boys to secure the chamber. "You men tie the panic bars together good and tight, we don't want anybody walking in uninvited." Morgan didn't want this surprise party to be spoiled by a bunch of humorless capital guards.
"President Stoate, members of the California State Assembly, friends," Matthius opened, "I am Reverend Matthew Matthius of the Second City Mission in Los Angeles. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, has made it possible for me to bring over two hundred of the homeless here to participate in the government of man. We are all here today because we have a common concern. That concern is homelessness in this state and in this nation. Now, you Assembly members out there say you're concerned with the homeless problem. Precisely what do you mean by that? Assemblyman Stoate, since you're supposedly the top ape in this monkey house, perhaps you can enlighten us with your personal definition of the Homeless Problem. You have the floor sir."
Stoate sat defiantly, his round pink face flushed with anger. He looked more like a snotty bulldog puppy than the leader of millions, but he held the pose. At least he held the pose until Freddy kicked the chair from under his generously appointed butt.
Stoate got up indignantly and puffed, "You creatures may have temporary control of this chamber, but I will not dignify your actions with a reply to these impertinent questions. We have a system of government in this country and you are not a part of it." With that,
Stoate crossed his arms and clammed up.
"Perhaps another member of this august body who doesn't have a post up his ass would care to speak to us like a man. Someone who will start this discussion in the true spirit of democracy, here in the sight of God and witnesses." Matthius felt himself to be in total mastery of the chamber.
"I'd like to give it a shot, Reverend Matthius." It was Assemblyman Robert Redmond, convicted liberal and casual champion of social causes. He was no stranger to Matthius' various attempts at social reform.
"Very well Mr. Redmond. Please approach the microphone and speak the truth to these people. I suspect that the homeless among us will offer rebuttal to any falsehoods contained in your words. Those among you who are members of the Assembly will listen thoughtfully, lest your arms be suddenly broken, should it be God's will."
Redmond pushed aside a lock of his longish, telegenically styled chestnut hair as he firmly approached the flag bedecked podium. He knew he owed his seat in the statehouse more to his TV anchorman good looks than to his southpaw political leanings. His life's work was to offset his constituents' bigotry with their basic sense of fair play and get himself re-elected despite the voters.
"Mr. Speaker, Reverend Matthius, fellow Assembly members.
These men who have gone to extreme measures to be among us today are the very people' we are gathered together to discuss. While I disagree with their forceful entry into this chamber, each of us in this room, and indeed this state, is responsible for their sorry plight."
The patronizing comments didn't set well with the Hollywood contingent who punctuated the opening with epithets and obscene gestures.
Redmond took a deep breath and continued. "Most of you have shown your unwillingness to pass new laws that would provide homes for the homeless. You've used the sorry excuse that we always use in government when we don't take a situation seriously enough to solve it...it costs too much. But I challenge you to look deep inside and ask yourself if the way we treat these people who sit among us today is part of what makes you proud to be an American.
They're not asking to marry your daughters, which I think speaks highly of their personal tastes in itself. Instead, they want to restructure spending to build low cost housing throughout the state. They want changes in mental and medical care priorities to give early diagnosis and treatment to the poorest of the poor, instead of spending ten times as much of this limited medical money too late to treat these same diseases in their most advanced state. They want, and California needs, new priorities in social service programs that teach the illiterate and aid the dyslexic to make them employable."
Otter interrupted, "Hell, all we want is new shoes, tight pussy and a warm place to sleep." Wally tenderly slugged him in the gut to quiet him down.
A murmur rolled through the room as Redmond resumed. "While we continue to waste money on programs on that vast welfare program called the civil service, we waste the best part of ourselves. I urge you all to reconsider your positions and create a new tomorrow for the homeless of this state. Thank you."
The momentary hush in the chamber was broken by a raucous farting sound that ripped loose from the Hollywood delegation. Most of the legislators shared the sentiment, but lacked the muscular control to join the chorus.
"Mister Redmond, for a windbag, you are truly a man of vision and justice," Matthius cooed imperiously, "But from their reactions, I find it difficult to believe that you have changed the hearts of your colleagues. Besides, this bill doesn't address the problems you've gone on about. This is strictly a proposal to expand the legal rights of the homeless. Frankly, I am deeply disappointed that so much work on this bill seems to have been completed in our absence. A more cynical man than myself might construe Assemblyman Redmond's speech to indicate that the issue had already been discussed and decided before it ever came to today's first public debate."
"Reverend Matthius, if I may clarify." It was Redmond again. "We began debate on this bill yesterday afternoon when the calendar opened up. It was originally scheduled for today, but somehow we managed to get other business out of the way early."
"Then I am certain there are records of the debate up to this point, are there not?"
"Yes Reverend Matthius, I'm sure the official recorder has them all here today."
"Then perhaps, if you gentlemen don't mind, we can review the pros and cons on this issue. Particularly those misguided individuals who have chosen to oppose this proposal. Would the recorder please identify herself."
A thin, pale man stood nervously and spoke. "Sir, I am the recorder, and I have the transcripts of these proceedings since they started. You needn't use violence, I am willing to cooperate with you in all ways, since these records are public documents. You have the same right to know as any other citizen."
"My son, that is a righteous and Godly attitude. Please give us a synopsis of the supporters and detractors who spoke on this bill before my delegation joined this healthy demonstration of democracy."
As names were named inside the chamber, the guards outside got restless. Although none had witnessed, or even suspected the takeover, they felt something was amiss. Every legislator's phone gave a busy signal when called, and even the seriously incontinent members had not come out to answer nature's call. Several officers pounded on the jammed doors, but there was no response. Yet the muffled sounds of the PA system that could be heard outside the thick doors made it seem that the Assembly was in normal session.
A nervous police corporal barked orders at the staff. "Get a phone man down here to check those lines. Find out if there's some legal reason we shouldn't force those doors open. Get me an ear on that PA system so we can find out what's going on in there. This is mighty peculiar, but I don't want to start a panic."
The corporal found a phone for himself and checked in with tactical headquarters. He was distressed to find out that his boss and a SWAT team had headed for the Assembly leader's office only moments earlier. He chose not to share the information with the other officers. "There's something going on alright, but I don't know what it is. I think we'd better break out the heavy artillery and be ready for damn near anything."
His staff hungrily agreed. Capitol duty was pretty dull as a rule, and most of the men itched for a chance to use their special training in a real incident, instead of another pointless drill.
On the other side of those mysterious old doors, Morgan sat between a pair of especially ancient and dotty assemblymen. There was trouble on his mind. He knew that eventually, somebody was going to miss the state Assembly and come looking for them. What he didn't know was whether they had minutes or hours. But he was fairly sure that the absence of at least a few of them might be noticed by suppertime.
The periodic banging on the doors also unnerved him. His class in basic tactics told him that the police were probably already moving to flank the place, but he didn't dare stick his head out into the hallway to make sure.
At the front, the recorder's damning testimony related a sad tale, which Matthius summed up. "It sounds to me as though very few of you Assembly members have shown much support for this homeless aid bill, or indeed, very much interest in their problems at all. I only hope that the Almighty is willing to forgive your hard-heartedness. I feel as if I am in the presence of Roman guards as our Lord hangs dying from a cross. Have you no compassion? Just who do you gentlemen represent anyway? Certainly it is not the many homeless strangers who sit among you today."
The negative news for the homeless made Freddy and Jason very agitated, despite the fact that they lived in a nice condo near the college. The scariest zealots aren't always the victims of oppression; sometimes they're the children of the oppressor.
The skinny guy with glasses whispered to his friend, "Jason, do these guys piss you off as much as they piss me off?"
"Maybe more, dude," the beefy one rasped back. "Some of these suits remind me of my old man and his asshole friends. Whadda' ya' say we take a little executive action?"
"You're reading my mind, dude. Let's start in the back and work our way in, kinda like wolves tending to their sheep." Freddy chuckled at his own dark wit.
The ominous pair worked back to a nameplate they recognized for its owner's negative comments in the official record. Assemblyman William Bennett was a backbencher who was rising fast in political circles, thanks to his willingness to press the cause of justice for anybody who would pay for the privilege.
His beady eyes locked onto the approaching duo as he spoke to them. "When this is over, these worthless bastards are going to look back at their life on the street as the good old days. And you two dumb kids are going to wish you were back with your mommies instead of in prison. If you had any brains among the bunch of you, you'd understand how things work in this world. If you want something, you buy it. If you're not willing to pay, don't whine when you don't get it handed to you on a platter."
"And just where in the hell are these guys gonna come up with bribe money for a high priced thief like you, Bennett?" Freddy asked.
"Look you little hoodlum, I don't take bribes."
"OK, call it a campaign contribution, it's all the same, just a different name."
"I have never broken the law, and I resent a snot nosed punk like you calling me a thief. I represent the people of my district, and I do a damned good job of it too."
"Bullshit! I live in your district and you don't represent anybody except a bunch of jiz-heads like my old man and his widow raping pals."
The passion suddenly evaporated from Freddy's face and voice as he continued. "I'd like to continue this discussion where we won't interrupt the proceedings. Please come with us."
"You little jerks aren't worth my time. Shut up and go away."
"Oh, but we insist." Jason punctuated his invitation with a rather aggressive looking hunting knife that had materialized near Bennett's carotid artery.
Bennett wanted to gulp, but he feared Jason's knife might peel his Adam's apple if he moved it even fractionally. Instead, he slowly rose to his feet and followed the knife's beckoning to the back side of one of the stone pillars at the balcony's base.
Freddy quietly told Bennett, "Take your shoes and socks off. NOW!"
The assemblyman readily agreed.
"Now, hand me the socks."
Bennett complied and Freddy eyed them contemptuously. "God, I don't believe it. Check this out dude, designer socks."
Jason thought for a second. "Ill bet designer socks taste better than sweat socks, huh Fred? I want you to stuff those pretty socks into that big lying yap of yours, Mr. Assemblyman."
Bennett started to object, but Jason's nasty knife got edgy again, so the assemblyman opened wide and stuffed each fuzzy sock into his face, shuddering all the while.
Freddy seemed more relaxed again as he spoke. "Now, I want you to peel down to your undies, which are, no doubt, designer undies. Take this monkey suit off and throw it on the floor. Suits make me nervous, they remind me of my old man."
Hockey pucks aren't quite as large as Bennett's eyes were right then. He tried to make an objection, but it was muffled by a mouthful of designer socks. Jason's knife delicately tasted one or two drops of blood. The suit came off quickly after that.
Freddy tied Bennett's hands behind the man's back with his own designer shirt and whispered, "You can keep your designer skivvies on your lard ass. We don't really want to see it anyway.
The climbing hook shot neatly around the pillar, just above the balcony railing. Freddy's toss was flawless, as usual. Then he started to fiddle with the free end of the climbing rope.
"Thirteen twists is the traditional number for criminals, I hear." In a few seconds he had fashioned a movie perfect noose. "I sure hope it's the right size, Mr. Bennett. Let's try it on and see how it looks. It's a designer noose, you know, made from a limited edition Dolt rope. Oh, yes, it's you. What do you think Jason?"
Before there was time to answer, Bennett gamely tried a groin kick at his tormentor. He missed, and would have fallen down except for the support given by the rope around his neck. Nobody else in the gallery even turned to see what was happening as he moaned and thrashed in terror.
Hand over hand, the two young men slowly hoisted the near naked legislator by his neck. When he was a few feet from the top, they tied the rope to a low railing and watched Bennett kick as a rumbling sound came from his constricted throat.
"Kick a little harder Bill," Freddy quietly encouraged, "It helps tighten the noose and cuts off your breathing faster."
"It's a good thing we left his shorts on him," Jason offered. "Otherwise he'd be shittin' all over us right now."
"I think his days of shittin' all over us are gone for good, Jason. What do you say we grab another one. I'm feelin' lucky."
"OK, but I get to pick this one out."
"Suits me, but don't grab a fat one. This guy was almost too heavy for just the two of us."
The sound Bennett's bare feet made as they desperately slapped the cold marble pillar faded to the rear while the ominous pair returned to the center of the debate. Apparently, nobody had yet missed Assemblyman Bennett, and his struggles went unnoticed by his peers.
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