Short Story by: John Lavernoich
Since it was founded almost 150 years ago, the main purpose of the organization known as G.A.F. – Guns for America Forever – was crystal clear from the very beginning: namely, to protect and preserve the rights of all gun owners in the United States. There was little question that most, if not all, of the G.A.F. members and leaders throughout its history were loyal Americans – loyal in the fact that they believed in equality and justice for all.
However, the fact that many G.A.F. members and leaders (both past and present) were fanatically devoted to the phrase “The right to bear arms” which was part of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment – perhaps a bit too fanatically, which bordered on the irrational – gave many Americans, including those gun owners who weren’t G.A.F. members, cause for concern. Worse yet, there were those belonging to the G.A.F. who were somewhat callous towards the gun violence in the United States which had already claimed the lives of countless victims, while forever altering those of their families and friends – and they’d already long questioned the G.A.F.’s views on a problem that wasn’t going away any time soon. If you asked a G.A.F. member how they’d feel if he or she became a victim of gun violence – or worse yet, a loved one or friend suffering the same fate – you’d get the same answer, which definitely bordered on the arrogant: “It’ll never happen to me – I own a firearm.”
But the unfortunate truth was that violence and tragedy in all of its forms didn’t care who they affected – and especially at the most unexpected moments, which did nothing to decrease the personal agony which caused many to ask how it could happen to those who had so much to live for, as well as ask why it happened. It was a vicious cycle which had existed throughout history – and the chances of it being broken for good were at best slim to nothing, at least for right now.
William “Billy” Stark, a medium-height and burly Caucasian man in his mid-fifties with thinning white hair who was the current president of G.A.F., had arrived via jet plane in Detroit, Michigan on a mid-Friday evening in mid-August – starting this upcoming Monday, both the city and the Cobo Convention Center would play host to the annual G.A.F. convention, which would be attended by many of its members, as well as those wanting to join the organization. Needless to say, reaction in Detroit to the city playing host to the G.A.F. convention was, at best, very mixed – and certainly not helped by the fact that gun violence was one of many problems already facing the city itself, and which no one could dare ignore, not even the spin doctors working for not only Detroit’s city government, but also the Michigan governor’s office. Stark arrived in Detroit at week’s end to help supervise final preparations for the G.A.F. annual convention at the Cobo Convention Center on the weekend before it started early next week.
It was mid-Saturday morning inside the Hotel St. Regis, in one of its banquet rooms on the lobby floor, where Stark was already giving a well-publicized press conference concerning the upcoming G.A.F. convention, with local newspaper, radio, and TV reporters and various audio and video crews already present. Stark had long been a master of this kind of showmanship, having learned almost everything from many of his predecessors who were former G.A.F. presidents. In fact, in the past thirty-five years, the running joke was that the press conferences which occurred a few days before any G.A.F. event, including its conventions, were more about the organization’s presidents and their egos than its main purpose, while morally blind to the old adage about all glory being fleeting. And a good number of G.A.F.’s critics over the years had silently hoped – and prayed – that the G.A.F. presidents and executive officers’ egos would end up deflated to point of them and their reputations never rising like Lazarus ever again.
For Stark and his predecessors, helming those press conferences weren’t always an easy thing to accomplish – and especially when news reporters and journalists asked them questions related to the various gun shootings which were making news headlines throughout the United States almost every day, including what G.A.F. was doing to reduce and/or eliminate a problem which was already causing far greater tragedy and heartbreak than one should have to endure. In Stark’s opinion – as well as those of most G.A.F. members – the gun control laws that many Americans had long demanded were a serious threat to not only the organization, but also its members’ constitutional rights. How else to explain why G.A.F. had influenced politicians – including those in Washington, D.C. – to see things its way? Of course, G.A.F.’s methods were a bit unorthodox – and in some cases, illegal – but it believed that in the long run, the end always justified the means, including the U.S. Government not standing in G.A.F.’s way. And besides, G.A.F. could do anything it wanted, so long as their power was unchallenged.
However, there were several things wrong with that way of thinking, including the fact that sooner or later, such delusions of glory and power would result in the kind of consequences which would prove to be costly – and worse, fatal. And what happened before – depending on both time periods and incidents – could very well happen again and without warning.
By late-Tuesday morning, inside the Cobo Convention Center building, the G.A.F. national convention was already starting its second day – already, many card-carrying G.A.F. members from around the country who were already at the convention were spellbound by the various firearm exhibits which was supposed to show and represent the strength and courage associated with the United States. Elsewhere inside the convention center building, there were seminars given by G.A.F. executive officers and attended by other members – which preached the purpose of firearms in American life, as well as the rights of gun owners.
As for those who attended the G.A.F. national convention who weren’t yet members – as well as those who had no desire to be – some might have silently reached the conclusion that G.A.F. treated gun ownership like a religion or cult spiraling out of control. And still others might have wondered why the G.A.F. national convention failed to not only address the more serious problems associated with firearms – including the senseless violence and deaths which make news headlines almost every day, and the emotional pain and suffering resulting from it – but also find solutions which might have prevented such tragedies from occurring. But then, the public image that G.A.F. created throughout most of its history – which was both callous and oblivious towards actual reality – was one which it wallowed in, and which it refused to change. And when an organization like G.A.F. adheres to its own idea of reality – sooner or later, it proves to be no defense against the reality that all must face and accept.
Inside the Cobo Convention Center’s main auditorium, over five hundred in attendance were already in their seats as they were about to listen to William “Billy” Stark give a live lecture which praised what he called G.A.F.’s “positive virtues” – or what passed for them, anyway. In truth, Stark’s methods which he used as G.A.F. president had long since garnished controversy – the kind that caused those to question whether or not American ideals – and the ideals associated with civilization in general -- were succumbing to a madness that had long existed, yet waited for the right moment to explode and strike without warning.
“The gun owner’s role in our country’s history is totally the story of our country,” said Stark, as he spoke into an electronic microphone which was attached to the wooden podium that he now stood on – and which was transmitted via large loudspeakers connected to the microphone and hi-tech sound system, “Without the firearms used by those brave patriots who fought against Britain, America wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War and become the greatest nation in the world! And without firearms, all Americans would be crushed by our enemies, who only care about sending us to our graves -- and furthermore --!”
“BULL!” yelled a gravelly and echoing voice from out of nowhere which was heard throughout all of the convention center building, and which shocked and surprised those inside it – including Stark himself.
“That’d better not be a Liberal say --!”
“But I’m not a Liberal – or a Conservative!”
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Oddly enough, it was – more or less – the same question silently asked by others also attending the G.A.F. national convention. And it wouldn’t take long for them to learn the answer – much to their total regret. For within the next few minutes, two-hundred armed gunmen – all clad in full-body black leotards, purple hoods which totally covered their heads, purple gloves, purple boots, and purple weapons belts with gun holsters around their waists – materialized inside the Cobo Convention Center building, appearing from out of nowhere and avoiding not only any and all detection from the building’s hi-tech security cameras, but also the attention of its security guards. Those who reacted to the masked men’s presence initially thought that they were some sort of publicity gimmick associated with the G.A.F. national convention – or even an upcoming action movie or TV series.
“Look at those hooded nut-bars,” said Ty Cullum, a medium-height and slender Caucasian man in his late-thirties with long brown hair and a goatee who was attending the G.A.F. national convention, “Don’t they know that this ain’t a comic book convention?” Cullum’s response to the present situation inside the convention center building was definitely sarcastic. But what happened next wasn’t funny – and with good reason. The hooded gunmen wielded Beretta PM12-S2 submachine guns – and they were definitely for real. Within seconds, one of the hooded gunmen fired his weapon point-blank at Cullum, as the 9×19mm Parabellum cartridges fired from it hit and killed him instantly – those attending the G.A.F. national convention were already eyewitnesses to Cullum’s bullet-riddled and blood-stained body slumping on the floor, horrific proof that what was happening now was no joke.
“Anyone else wanna mock us?” said the hooded gunman who killed Cullum, his voice gravelly.
“And if you do it,” said another hooded gunman, his voice also gravelly, “We’ll do it to you!” Those attending the G.A.F. national convention who had just witnessed Cullum’s murder said nothing, as they realized that what was happening now was no joke. That was also true in other sections of the convention center building, as a nightmare was already becoming a grim reality.
Within seconds, the Detroit Police Department received a phone call from an anonymous person on the other line, as he revealed in a very frightened tone what was now happening at the Cobo Convention Center. But if the police operator who spoke with the frightened informer on the phone thought that he was a modern-day version of Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, what she heard next was far from funny: namely, the sound of gunfire heard on the other line, followed by the person who contacted the police painfully groaning, then succumbing to the very same gunfire. Within seconds, several police cruisers containing uniformed officers, as well as several regular vehicles manned by several plainclothes police detectives and a police wagon carrying an S.W.A.T. team, headed over to the convention center building, as they hoped for the best – while fearing for the worst.
Inside the Cobo Convention Center’s main auditorium, twenty of the two-hundred hooded gunmen were already holding “Billy” Stark and those attending his lecture hostage, as they tried to make sense of what was now happening – while some silently asked themselves: Why us?
“What’s the hell’s happening?” said Stark angrily, “You’re at the --!”
“Stuff it,” yelled one of the hooded gunmen in a gravelly voice, much like his other compatriots, “You’ll find out why – and quickly!”
“Are you extreme right-wing --?”
“You should know about right-wingers,” said the mysterious and gravelly voice that everyone inside the convention center building heard only a few minutes ago, “After all, you are one.”
“If this is a joke,” said Stark angrily, “I’ll --!”
“Look who’s calling who a joke. But after today, I’ll have the last laugh.” Suddenly, a medium-height masked figure clad in a full-body dark purple costume from head to toe, along with black gloves and boots, a black weapons belt with a gun holster around his waist, and a pair of goggles with mirrored one-way lenses which concealed his eyes, materialized from out of nowhere as he stood directly to Stark’s right. On the front of the masked figure’s costume’s tunic was a white outline of a human skull – the symbol of Death, final and absolute.
“You look here,” said Stark angrily, “This is a firearms convention, not a --!” Then, the masked figure standing to Stark’s right removed a M1911 semi-automatic pistol from his weapons belt’s gun holster with his gloved left hand and pointed it directly at the G.A.F. president, who was somehow unfazed by what was now happening.
“My weapon’s fully loaded, Stark,” uttered the costumed figure in a gravelly and grim voice, “Does that convince you that I’m dead serious?”
“You won’t be --!”
“We’ve already murdered the convention center’s security guards – and without witnesses of any kind to gum up the works.”
“Who the hell are --?”
“I am the Purple Plague – who’s about to get all his heart desires – and more.”
“Are you a criminal?”
“Funny – there are a significant number of people who’ve called you a criminal throughout your tenure as G.A.F. president, with some of them doing it in private.”
“I’m definitely not a --!”
“Nixon said it when he was U.S. President – and we all know what happened after that. At least he admitted his guilt when he gave up the Presidency. But that’s another subject for another time. Right now, it’s the present – and future – which definitely counts.”
“You won’t have much of a future once the police --!”
“I’m sure that the Detroit police have already arrived at the Cobo Convention Center, hoping to prevent this hostage situation from becoming an all-out bloodbath. And they’ll be expecting to hear from me concerning my various demands – and speaking of which --!” Soon, the Purple Plague’s gloved right hand removed a cell phone which was the size of a digital voice recorder from one of the front compartments of his costume’s weapons belt, then turned it on and dialed a phone number known only to him.
“Hello,” said Sgt. Gerry Quinlan, one of the plainclothes police detectives alerted to the scene of the incident, on the other line, “Who is this?”
“Ah,” said the Purple Plague, “A representative of the law – nice to hear your voice.”
“Are you responsible for this hostage situation?”
“I am – just as I’m about to change the course of history for good.”
“Are you a --?”
“’Terrorist’ is a mild word – I prefer to call myself an avenger determined to restore the balance of power throughout the United States.”
“You look here,” yelled Stark angrily, “I won’t have --!”
“Interrupt the boss one more time,” yelled one of the armed gunmen, as he pointed his submachine gun directly at Stark, “And you’ll really be a holy mess.”
“Now,” said the Purple Plague, as he continued to speak on his cell phone, “Before I was rudely interrupted – here are my demands, which’ll be of great importance, and not just for all Americans.”
“I’m listening,” said Sgt. Quinlan on the other line.
“First – every state in America, as well as Washington, D.C., must and will get rid of their gun laws for good in the next twelve hours! Second -- only criminals, terrorists, and extremists in the United States can own firearms!”
“That’s worse than crazy – it’s absolutely --!”
“It’s a stroke of brilliance.”
“To you and every other refugee from the loony bin – but to us as well as the innocent, it’s 100% insane!”
That purple kook’s totally nuts, thought Stark, One of G.A.F.’s harshest critics must have secretly sent him and his goons to torment me!
“Finally,” said the Purple Plague, as he continued to speak on his cell phone, “The U.S. Government -- and the governments of all fifty states -- must pay me each $100 billion dollars within the next twelve hours. And after my demands are met – my men and I plan to kill everyone inside the convention center building. After that – well, it’s open season on the rest of the country and beyond! And it will be – so the country’d better do what I say – starting now!” Within seconds, the Purple Plague finished his phone call with Sgt. Quinlan, as he turned his attention to “Billy” Stark.
“W-W-What you’re doing is – is,” said Stark nervously, “Criminal!”
“And what you’ve done as G.A.F. leader isn’t?” answered the Purple Plague, as he continued to point his weapon directly at the G.A.F. president, “You’ve been known to influence certain politicians, Stark -- and not just in Congress and the Senate. You’ve succeeded in bending them to your will – and secretly – just so the U.S. Government and other critics won’t be breathing down G.A.F.’s neck.”
“You’re goddamned lying! Real Americans aren’t --!”
“I know all your secrets, Stark – including those that you’ve hidden from the rest of G.A.F.! Perhaps your captive audience – and soon, the rest of the world – would like to hear some of them! And they --!”
“Hey, you,” said Lou Bardino, a tall and burly Caucasian man in his mid-forties with a bald head who was a G.A.F. member, as he furiously got up from his seat, “Stark’s done great things for G.A.F. – and the entire country! He’s helped preserve our rights as gun owners – and if you think that you’re gonna eliminate them, you’re totally whacko!”
“And what the hell gives you the right to bully our country?” said Clayton Gilmore, a medium-height and slender Caucasian man in his early-forties with short blond hair who was another G.A.F. member, as he got up from his seat (also furiously), “You’re no better than anyone else who’s threatened the U.S. --!”
“N-N-Now,” said Stark nervously, “Let’s not --!”
“Listen to your ‘noble’ leader,” said the Purple Plague grimly, “And shut --!”
“No,” yelled Grant Hanson, a medium-height, slender, and bespectacled African-American man in his late-forties with short black hair and graying temples who wasn’t a G.A.F. member, as he angrily got up from his seat, “You listen! What you’re demanding is not only insane – but also wrong!”
“Another G.A.F. member who’s standing up to me – at this point, I’d mockingly say --!”
“Actually, I’m a reporter for the Detroit News who’s covering the G.A.F. convention this week. And what you want won’t do any --!”
“My kind will indeed benefit from those changes. After all, aren’t criminals and other perverts supposed to be the ultimate authority figures?”
“But you’re not God. And nobody has the right to --!”
“I have every right to do as I please – because --!”
“Bull,” yelled Tenny Cutler, a tall and muscular Caucasian man in his late-thirties with short black crew-cut hair and a black mustache who was a G.A.F. member, as he furiously got up from his seat, “You ain’t a real American! You’re probably a --!”
Something tells me that the Purple Plague’s going too far in his so-called crusade, thought Hanson, Way too far!
“What are you gonna do to me?” said the Purple Plague boldly and venomously, “Blow my brains out? But then, your brains are already pea-brained!” Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler silently stared at each other, their minds already made up. Then, with the others inside the main auditorium – both criminals and hostages – serving as mute witnesses, Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler angrily turned their attention directly to the Purple Plague, as they curled their fingers into fists and slowly walked down one of the auditorium aisles, towards the stage currently occupied by Stark and the Purple Plague.
“We don’t need guns to take you out,” said Cutler angrily.
“And in a few seconds, you’ll be wishing you were somewhere else,” added Gilmore angrily. As Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler approached the auditorium stage, the Purple Plague was starting to nervously shake, while his gloved left hand was still holding his gun, as he now pointed it at the furious trio.
“S-S-Step back,” yelled the Purple Plague nervously, “Or I’ll shoot! I’ll --!” But before the costumed criminal could use his automatic weapon, Bardino grabbed his right leg and yanked him off the auditorium stage and onto the cement floor hard, as the Purple Plague was quickly rendered unconscious. Then, Gilmore’s right foot rammed into the Purple Plague’s left wrist hard, breaking it in the process, and forced the criminal to let go of his weapon. Soon, the Purple Plague was brutally beaten up by Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler, who were already as mad as hell. Those witnessing it, including Grant Hanson, didn’t cheer – and perhaps it was definitely for the best.
At this point, the Purple Plague’s armed associates who were scattered throughout the Cobo Convention Center building would retaliate by killing everyone inside it – but they didn’t. The moment the Purple Plague was subdued, his armed and masked henchmen quickly turned to dust, as their clothing, weaponry, and other accessories collapsed onto the floor, to the surprise and shock of those witnessing it – as Hanson quickly got up from his seat and headed down the aisle towards the auditorium stage and approached Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler, before they could further injure the now-unconscious Purple Plague.
“That’s enough,” yelled Hanson angrily, as Bardino, Gilmore, and Cutler stopped beating up the Purple Plague, “He may have threatened us – but what you did to him afterward was no less wrong!”
“But that crumb threatened us,” said Bardino.
“Not to mention everything that our country stands for,” added Cutler.
“True,” said Hanson, “But your actions were no less inappropriate than what the Purple Plague did earlier. And the world already has plenty to worry about – including the gun violence that we’re already confronting.”
“Aren’t our rights as Americans important?” asked Gilmore.
“Yes – but unless they’re tempered by wisdom and decency, they eventually become useless and pointless.”At roughly the same time that the Purple Plague was subdued, one of the many people attending the G.A.F. national convention ran out of the convention center building and told the Detroit police what had just happened. Within seconds, half-a-dozen police officers – including Sgt. Quinlan – entered the convention center building, where they found those who suffered through the ordeal alive, but definitely upset and shaken. The ordeal was over – but the memories would persist forever, including the Purple Plague’s murder victims, whose corpses the Detroit police placed in body bags and delivered to the city morgue, where the Coroner’s Office performed autopsies on the deceased, and further confirmed what happened earlier.
Five hours later: Inside one of the brightly-lit waiting rooms at the Detroit Medical Center, on the ground floor, Grant Hanson had just finished using his laptop computer to type, spell-check, and e-mail his follow-up news story concerning the Purple Plague’s actions at the G.A.F. national convention earlier today to his editor at the Detroit News offices, when Sgt. Gerry Quinlan – a tall and muscular Caucasian man in his mid-forties with thin black hair and a black mustache – entered the waiting room and approached Hanson. Sgt. Quinlan had just come from the hospital’s Intensive Care ward, where the Purple Plague was now recovering from his brutal beating, with the police guarding him 24/7.
“Will the Purple Plague live?” asked Hanson.
“Well, he’s regained consciousness and is now somewhat coherent,” answered Sgt. Quinlan, “But considering what happened to him earlier, the Purple Plague’s in no shape to harm even a sick canary. Even so, the Detroit P.D.’s guarding him in Intensive Care while he recovers enough to eventually stand trial for his crimes -- including murdering not only that heckler at the G.A.F. convention, but also the convention center security guards.”
“At least the Purple Plague’ll get a fair trial once he’s well again.”
“Listen – how does it feel for a reporter like you to witness what happened earlier today, and come out of it alive and intact?”
“Let’s just say that it was more excitement than anyone should have to endure. By the way, I saw one of your colleagues unmask the Purple Plague at the convention center before he was transported here. Have you learned any more about the man behind the mask?”
“Well, ‘Billy’ Stark, the G.A.F.’s current president, definitely recognized him after he was unmasked. The Purple Plague who caused all this chaos -- as well as ordering the deaths of those at the Cobo Center, including Tyson Cullum -- is really Jesse McPherson, who’s one of Stark’s next-door neighbors in Charlottesville, Virginia. And that’s not all.”
“McPherson’s a member of G.A.F. – right?”
“According to Stark – and he was definitely in a state of shock when he told us earlier – McPherson joined G.A.F. eight years ago, at Stark’s personal recommendation. Does that tell you about Stark’s mindset?”
“Well, Stark’s not perfect, Sergeant – then again, nobody is, not even the ultra-patriotic.”
“Ger?” said police officer Paul Muldoon, a medium-height and slender Irish-American man in his late-thirties with short sandy blond hair who was a plainclothes detective and Sgt. Quinlan’s partner, as he entered the waiting room and approached both him and Hanson, “This you’ve got to hear.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” said Sgt. Quinlan, as he and Hanson saw Officer Muldoon removed a small digital voice recorder from inside the front right pocket of his sports jacket, “What’s up?”
“This – and it came straight from McPherson’s mouth when we questioned him a few minutes before.” Within seconds, Officer Muldoon’s left middle finger pushed the play button on the digital voice recorder, as it started to play one of its audio files stored on it – in this case, Officer Muldoon and another of his police detective colleagues questioning Jesse McPherson from inside the hospital’s Intensive Care ward.
“What drove you to do this?” said Officer Muldoon’s voice, as it came from the digital voice recorder.
“A voice told me to do it,” said McPherson’s voice, in a somewhat strained tone, as it came from the digital voice recorder, “He said that if I succeeded, the world would be better off for it.”
“And did he contact you via phone or computer?” said the voice of plainclothes police sergeant Jonah Vinton, as it came from the digital voice recorder, “Or did you meet him face-to-face?”
“He – he spoke to me from inside my home a week or two. He told me that he would take care of everything as far as my holy mission was concerned.”
“So you never met your so-called ‘benefactor’ at all,” said Officer Muldoon’s voice, as it came from the digital voice recorder.
“You only heard his voice,” said Sgt. Vinton’s voice, as it came from the digital voice recorder, “Are you telling us the truth?”
“I’m telling you the gospel truth,” said McPherson’s voice, as it came from the digital voice recorder.
“Why did you do this, McPherson?”
“Because the voice told me to – and that my actions would change the world for the better.” Within seconds, Officer Muldoon’s left middle finger pushed the stop button on the digital voice recorder – and what he, Sgt. Quinlan, and Hanson just heard was, in many respects, difficult to comprehend.
“Well,” said Officer Muldoon with a heavy sigh, “What do you think of it?”
“I don’t know,” answered Sgt. Quinlan, “I can only imagine what might happen if McPherson fully recovers and ends up telling us a story different from what we’ve just heard.”
“Or maybe McPherson lost his sanity a long time ago,” said Hanson, “Only nobody was aware of it until he tried to terrorize the G.A.F. convention earlier today.”
“And his armed henchmen who ended up turning to dust once McPherson was subdued,” said Officer Muldoon, “How do you explain that?”
“Only McPherson knows the answer to that and other questions related to his actions earlier,” answered Sgt. Quinlan, “Or what passes for them. Which makes you wonder if he really is crazy.”
“And the sad fact is,” said Hanson, “McPherson won’t be the last gunman to terrorize anyone with firearms – just to satisfy a bloodlust that still defies explanation. And what happened before – and not just in the U.S. – will definitely happen again, until all of us realize that gun violence, including the senseless type, does nobody any good, and we take the proper steps necessary to make it a thing of the past.”
“Amen to that, Hanson. And let’s hope that someday, the victims of gun violence – God bless their souls – can finally rest in peace.”
That night: inside his dimly-lit fifth floor suite at the Hotel St. Regis, in the bedroom, William “Billy” Stark was sitting on the edge of his bed, still troubled by what Jesse McPherson did earlier today – and perhaps more. Only a few hours ago, Stark was at the Detroit Police Department headquarters building, where he pressed charges against the next-door neighbor who almost turned the Cobo Convention Center into a mass grave – and with the kind of regret which was no less deep and troubled than his own soul. And the fact that McPherson was a member of G.A.F. had already tarnished the organization’s reputation – but unlike past controversies, this one was poised to become G.A.F.’s death knell.
“You – or anyone else wielding a gun – should have shot and killed McPherson today,” said a mysterious voice from out of nowhere, and which only Stark could hear, “With many cheering you on. Instead, a trio of muscle-heads used their fists to stop McPherson – and before he could fire a single shot. That’s so wrong.”
“W-W-What do you want now?” said an upset Stark, who was familiar with the mysterious voice – perhaps more than anyone realized.
“By tempting and bending McPherson to my will a few weeks ago, I had hoped that my present plan would succeed – to the point of you or any other G.A.F. member attending your convention gunning down McPherson, and after he threatened to turn the U.S. into a lawless nation, thus restoring G.A.F.’s power and prestige, as well as increasing my influence on it.”
“Y-Y-You turned Jesse into a --?”
“I had hoped that you and your predecessors as G.A.F. presidents would be malleable and dependable tools to me – and yet, you’ve failed in restoring G.A.F.’s power and influence, which has greatly declined in recent years. I know what you’re thinking – you already fear that G.A.F. has lost its prestige recently partly because of certain meddlers who are in favor of stronger gun control laws that’ll greatly reduce violence and the mortality rate.
“But we know the real truth, don’t we? The gun control laws – and the stupid pacifists – are out to turn you into spineless and defenseless cream-puffs with no hope of --!”
“I’M NOT WEAK!”
“I’m not weak – partly because decency, compassion, and common sense mean nothing to me. But then, that’s what G.A.F. and other organizations are really all about: adhering to their own realities and to hell with humanity. And it’ll stay that way, as long as I exist.”
“I’m – not --!”
“I’m here to stay – so shape up and resume obeying my will, Stark. And if you don’t – you won’t be the only one who suffers. And you wouldn’t like what happens when you disobey me more than once.”
“Leave me alone.”
“I will – but not before I say this: you’ve long made your pact with me – and you’ll never break it. And besides, if you told the world the real truth about Jesse McPherson’s actions – would they believe you? But then, the real and unvarnished truth never truly mattered to a glory-seeker like you. Good night, Stark – and pleasant dreams.” Then, the mysterious voice briefly laughed mockingly and loudly – which “Billy” Stark could only hear – before vanishing like a haunting specter. Or worse still, a servant of the Devil.
As for Stark – the image that he maintained as G.A.F. leader – strong, dynamic, and uncompromising – was already falling apart, and not just because of what happened at the Cobo Convention Center earlier today. And if Jesse McPherson’s actions and the consequences which have resulted from them weren’t enough to haunt Stark – there was also a certain adage which had been true then, and remains so today. Stark, like others with good intentions, was already in a hell of his making, facing the kind of demons – inner and otherwise – who were proving to be too much for him to handle. And when they did succeed – the tormented ended up in the abyss, without help and hope.
Epilogue: By the next morning, William “Billy” Stark totally vanished from public view – and was never seen again. Stark’s disappearance – including the reasons behind it – would remain a mystery (as well as helping to bring forth conspiracy theories and urban myths which were more incredible and mind-boggling than those inspired by actual events in history), even to those who eventually succeeded him as president of Guns for America Forever. Whether or not Stark’s successors would become wiser following both the incident at the G.A.F. national convention in Detroit and Stark’s subsequent disappearance – no one could truly say, not even them.
As for Jesse McPherson, he did recover from his beating and eventually stood trial for his crimes, as well as pleading guilty – perhaps realizing his actions were, in the end, totally pointless. In the end, McPherson was sentenced to life in prison without parole – which caused some throughout the country to protest that he should have received the death penalty. But even if McPherson was sentenced to death – it wouldn’t have brought back his murder victims from the grave and beyond. Death had long been an essential – and painful -- part of the human condition, a fact that the families and friends of those who’ve died, both then and now, could attest to. And to claim that such tragedies never happened at all was not only wrong – but also meaningless.
As for the mysterious voice who manipulated more than just Stark and McPherson – he still existed to corrupt and control those who thought they were strong, but proved to be just as fallible and vulnerable as Stark and McPherson and those before them, if only because their personal demons were not only more powerful, but also difficult and impossible to get rid of. And yet, the mysterious voice wasn’t perfect – if only because there were those who represented humanity who faced tragedy and disappointment countless times, yet overcame them, becoming stronger, wiser, and better human beings. No matter what problems the world continues to face – including the violence that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored – decency, compassion, and wisdom were and will always be some of its greatest weapons to deal with both the unexpected and the unthinkable. And far more powerful than even an automatic weapon.
© Copyright 2017 John Lavernoich. All rights reserved.