Contagion

Reads: 247  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 2

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Unbridled political correctness sometimes runs amok like a contagious disease.

Submitted: May 23, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 23, 2015

A A A

A A A


A folly, by one definition of the term, is a building that serves no practical purpose. It is a form of ornamental architecture that was popular with the landed gentry in Europe, especially in England, during the 17th century. They were quite fanciful structures emulating such things as Egyptian temples and Palladian villas. Many were built as Gothic ruins to mimic the monasteries destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.

Given that the fad slowly died out over the following century, there are only a few examples of follies in the United States. Probably the most famous of those is the one built by Russ Larchbranch on his private island. It is a replica of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome. People jealous of the Larchbranch family fortune derisively refer to it as the Temple of Arrogance.

The island is a tree farm. About one third of the land is devoted to a private conservatory where Mr. Larchbranch propagates endangered species like Hawaiian koa trees and the even rarer lignum vitae ironwood species that was practically wiped out in Florida. The remainder is a plantation for tropical hardwoods like mahogany and teak. It is the sale of the harvested timber that provides the income to maintain the expensive conservation effort and the Larchbranch lifestyle.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to have built the folly in a remote area far from the small village on the north cape that was the only inhabited compound on the island. It was a mistake because the temple became the target of vandals called the Nocturnal Taggers who would parachute in during the night, tag the structure with graffiti and make their way to the beach to be picked up by boats. They would later post videos of their exploits on social media with their faces hidden behind Guy Fawkes masks.

It started as a prank by members a skydiving club on the mainland. At first, it was just a minor annoyance. Then, things got out of hand when a famous Hollywood actor, one with the reputation of being a bad ass, took up the idea. He did not disguise his identity, and his video of the caper went viral on the Internet. Suddenly, every action/adventure actor alive wanted a piece of that notoriety, and nocturnal tagging became a celebrity sport.

The perpetrators justified their criminal acts of trespass and vandalism as social rebellion against income inequality. It was just plain unfair that Russ Larchbranch should own an entire semi-tropical island while homeless people huddled for warmth on steam grates in Manhattan during the winter. They were particularly incensed that he would run a plantation in this day and age. They branded him the tree murderer and began a popular movement to have the government confiscate his property under the power of Imminent Domain. They wanted the island turned over to the people as a recreation park and  nature preserve. They signed petitions, marched in the streets and drew a lot of attention in the news.

Thereafter, Mr. Larchbranch was forced to devote a considerable amount of his time and a not insignificant part of his fortune to the issue of public safety. The vandalism has escalated far beyond mere graffiti. Trespassers had taken to spiking trees and starting forest fires. There was even an attempt to blow up the folly with homemade explosives.

When the state was admitted into the union, the island was large enough and remote enough that it was organized as a separate county. As the sole property owner and taxpayer, Russ Larchbranch was elected county commissioner, sheriff and justice of the peace. He organized small but highly professional police, fire and EMS forces, employees from the big city with proper commissions and licenses from the state in their respective occupations. Slowly but surely he brought law and order to the island county.

The lid blew off the pressure cooker the day county police officers found Madison Fast, a popular singer and song writer, sitting on the steps of the Temple of Arrogance. She claimed to be innocent of any wrongdoing. She said she was the lone survivor of a plane crash, of a corporate jet that had gone down while taking her, overnight, from one venue to the next. Having by then heard every excuse in the books, Sheriff Larchbranch arrested her under the suspicion of aggrivated trespass while he set about organizing a search party for the downed plane.

At 25 years of age, Madison was the most popular entertainer on the planet. With her striking good looks and her sweet, girl-next-door image, she was the darling of her young fans and their parents alike. She was known as the gal who, at one time or another, had dated and then dumped every famous hunk in Hollywood. She was known for composing songs about her former lovers' shortcomings and lack of stamina. Her political claim to fame, much to the feminist movement's delight, was that she was the possession of no man.

By sunrise the next morning, it was all over the news that the plane was overdue and considered to be missing. Aerial reconnaissance discovered the wreckage by midday and investigators were duly dispatched to the site. Sheriff Larchbranch apologized to Ms. Fast and took her to the dock where a boat awaited to ferry her to the mainland. If he thought that would be the end of it, the sheriff was sadly mistaken.

The press exploded in a frenzy when Madison Fast related her side of the story to the media sharks. The morning show hosts, radio and television alike, went into spasms of indignation. The afternoon round tables of female pundits exhausted their vocabulary of derogatory expletives. The sheriff became the butt of jokes on the late night talk show circuit. He was depicted in various caricatures as wearing vaguely Gestapo-looking uniforms. Even the president felt it necessary to get into the act by saying that if the sheriff would do that to a famous white woman, "Imagine what he would have done with a man who looks like me." He then ordered the Justice Department to launch an immediate investigation into the island's police practices to determine if Ms. Fast's civil rights had been violated. At the peak of that activity, no less than 200 FBI agents were assigned to the case.

The national rabble-rousers, the ones so infamous that they need not be named here, went into overdrive. They organized the million kayak flotilla, a mob of angry activists who would row out from the mainland to seize the island from the clutches of the evil tree murderer, woman molester and unfairly rich, latter day, plantation master. They, their leaders assured them, were the vanguard of social justice, the great wave of the progressive masses.

In reality, they only mustered about 90 kayakers willing to make the trip. The flotilla, however, was maybe three times that size, mostly composed of motor boats leased by press organizations, several of which were ridden by the anchors from the desks of the national evening newscasts.

Amid a sea of cameras and microphones, a well known reverend waded ashore and planted the rainbow whale flag, claiming the island in the name of the people, fauna and flora of the republic. The activists knelt in the surf. They held hands and sang Kumbaya. They hugged and weeped and reveled in their triumph.

In the meantime, the governor had declared a state of emergency and had activated the National Guard. It was his intention to see that the demonstration went peacefully. By that, he meant the Guard was to detain the island's police force and disarm them to prevent a potentially dangerous confrontation with the protesters.

Given the lack of police presence, the activists went wild. They took sledge hammers and pick axes to the columns and walls of the temple, threatening to collapse the portico. They started forest fires that raged out of control, fires that gutted a full one third of the island before a change in the wind direction and a fortuitous rain squall quelled them. In the interim, the county fire department stood by helplessly because it was ordered to stand down by a state judge claiming that fire was a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. Soon, the scene degenerated into a full blown riot. There was gunfire. Three people died, two having been shot and one having drowned. Another two went missing and were presumed to have drowned too. Also, during the melee, the National Guard troops were forced to pull back into the woods for their own safety as the governor had refused them permission to carry ammunition under the theory that it would be unnecessarily risky to trust young men with loaded rifles. He was not about to have another Kent State on his watch.

The governor and his minions wound up with egg all over their collective faces. They had bungled their civic duties in a tsunami of malfeasance, however, being seasoned politicians, they knew exactly what to do. They found a scapegoat to take the blame. They arrested Russ Larchbranch on the charge of inciting a riot. They transported him to the capital and paraded him before a phalanx of news cameras with his hands cuffed behind his back while packs of protesters, bussed in specifically for the event, waved signs and shouted nasty epithets. Later, the political spin doctors plastered his mugshot all over the city, on billboards, on lampposts and on the walls of abandoned buildings. For a brief moment in time, the sheriff was the most reviled man on Earth since Charlie Manson.

The only thing that can calm a perfect storm of political correctness insanity is the slow passage of time. After a few months had passed, a court judge threw out the charges against Russ Larchbranch without even holding a trial. He stated that case had no legal merit. The appeals court upheld his ruling, and the United States Supreme Court refused to review the issue. Meanwhile, the Justice Department quietly dropped its civil rights investigation, freeing up a lot of FBI agents for more important tasks. The state legislature also did its part. Fearful of threatening their own property rights and privileges as rich men and women of influence, they unanimously voted down a bill to seize the island by Imminent Domain. The activists drifted off to tilt at other windmills, and the skydiving club that started it all disbanded when their pilot lost his flying license.

Sheriff Russ Larchbranch sat in his police cruiser and watched the sun go down behind his heavily damaged but still standing folly, the Temple of Arrogance. In spite of the deprivations of the past quarter year, his lips curled in a wry smile when he thought of his most famous accomplishment. For 20 hours, he had held Madison Fast under arrest. No longer could the most popular entertainer in the world honestly claim that she had never spent the night as the possession of a man.

Copyright © 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.


© Copyright 2018 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

More Historical Fiction Short Stories