At nineteen and about to begin his sophomore year at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, César Marcos Abelló, Jr. had more political savvy than most people he associated with. His philosophy not yet completely defined―his views on the military and the economy aligned with conservatives but he identified with liberals on most social issues―shades of gray colored his ideology In certain areas.
The early morning start meant an uncluttered highway. Hunter―his treasured Harley-Davidson motorcycle―purred as it sliced through pockets of fog clinging to the ground and the sky turned progressively lighter. Mid-way through the two and a half hour ride between home and his destination, he pulled over to the side of the road and exchanged his clear goggles for sunglasses. Traffic volume increased as the scooter ate up miles of asphalt and he neared Charlottesville, Virginia.
Over fifty years before, civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders had boarded interstate buses and ridden into the segregated southern states. The mixed racial groups were intent on challenging the non-enforcement of judicial decisions mandating the desegregation of public buses. Protests, violence, and arrests met them as they traveled from the nation’s capital to New Orleans, Louisiana. What he had read in books made him think of those men and women as heroes.
The situation had changed in significant ways over the decades but the racism the young idealists confronted and battled against had never died; it simmered over the years, quite quiet and hidden beneath the surface. Emboldened by recent political changes, evolving attitudes towards reminders of slavery, and efforts to relocate monuments honoring traitors to the United States, white supremacists were once again flexing their muscle. He felt a moral obligation to counter their views the way those young men and women in the early sixties had. That imperative led him to leave his home this morning to confront the hate of the far right. Apparently, so did a multitude of others.
Having planned ahead, he parked the motorcycle on the outskirts of the city and called an Uber to approach the park. Hours before the racist rally was called for, people began arriving and he joined the throng walking towards the Robert E. Lee statue at the center of the Unite the Right rally. Those mired in the past vowed to prevent its removal and used it as an excuse to spew their venom against minorities.
He wasn’t close to the early violence at Emancipation Park, but the shouts and screams reached his ears and he wondered why the riot-geared police had surrounded the protesters but failed to intervene. Approaching the church parking lot where a racially-mixed crowd had gathered, most of them gray-haired, was being attacked. Unable to maneuver with ease in the crowd surrounding him, he watched as young white men charged and pummeled their unarmed ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was visible in an instant.
The growling of a car engine and screams assailed his ears, making him push the elderly lady next to him to the ground away from the steel monster barreling through the crowd. Moments later, as he turned to help her up and apologize for the rough treatment, he caught a sight in his peripheral vision which once again made him react without thinking.
“STOP HELPING THE NIGGERS!” The middle-aged man wore a t-shirt with a swastika on it and brandished a baseball bat. CJ didn’t wait for the man to raise it. He had never fired his Sig Sauer at anyone but he was ready to do so at the moment. Reaching into his vest, he withdrew Lola and aimed between the man’s eyes.
Those eyes told CJ the last thing the man was expecting was one of the counter protestors to be armed and willing to pull a pistol on him. He hesitated for a second and before he could wield the hickory weapon or run away, a fist attached to a muscular arm smashed into his face. “Put the handgun away, man. This cracker ain’t gonna bother you or the lady you saved.”
CJ’s breathing was ragged. He closed his eyes for a few seconds and took deep breaths. He had been ready to pull the trigger; to defend himself and the innocent bystander. The realization he could have taken a life was overwhelming. His repeated visits to the shooting range had allowed him to become a decent shot but he had followed his instincts and aimed to kill. No way was he going to risk harm to anybody else by trying for a limb and missing.
“Young man, I owe you my life. Twice over.” The woman he had shoved to the asphalt stood with his help; visibly shaken but uninjured as far as he could tell. “I’m opposed to the prevalence of firearms in our streets but in this case I’m glad one of the good guys had one. What’s your name?”
“I’m CJ, ma’am. Sorry I shoved you so hard but I was just reacting.”
“Son, you can push me to the ground anytime if it means me living another day to spend with my grandchildren. Your parents should be proud of how they’ve raised you. Not many would risk their lives and step in to help a total stranger the way you did. God bless you.”
The tension in the air was palpable; the increased activity by the authorities presaged a possible massive confrontation. The chants of “Jews will not replace us” made him nauseous and CJ decided it was time to head home. The cops, intent on shutting down the demonstrations, had blocked several intersections and CJ had to weave his way through side streets. Once he reached an area sufficiently far away from the epicenter of activity, he requested a ride from Uber. The driver dropped him off right next to where he had parked Hunter. He visually checked the bike, unlocked the helmet from the handlebar, and climbed aboard. Somewhat later, when he stopped at a gas station to fill the tank, CJ checked his phone and found a text message from his father:
***Text us NOW. Let us know you are OK***
CJ replied he was on his way back. The immediate response from his dad told him to head straight home and not stop anywhere.
Arriving at the Georgetown town house, he had just turned off the engine when his parents, brother, and fiancé burst out the back door and surrounded him. He locked the forks in place and removed his helmet but was unable to dismount; Ritchie ran towards his brother and hugged him so hard the two almost fell to the ground.
“Geez, bro, what the hell? How about you let me get inside the house before you attack me.” CJ’s smile died when he noticed the serious expression on his fathers and boyfriend. “What’s going on?”
“You were on TV, CJ.” Ritchie spoke before any of the other men could even open their mouths. “They showed you pointing your gun at some guy.”
Brett walked over to the two brothers and pried Ritchie away from CJ. “Give him a chance, Ritchie. The Associated Press released a picture of you holding off some man by pointing Lola at him, CJ. It went viral and all the networks have been showing it. About an hour after it was made public, someone recognized you and FOX’s been having a field day pointing out you were a big Clinton supporter.”
“SHIT! Shit. Shit.”
Inside the house, CJ removed his boots and left them and the helmet by the kitchen door. He retrieved his phone from his back pocket and stared at it while shaking his head. “I have a gazillion messages. Most are from friends but some are from reporters.”
“Mate, you almost managed to stay out of the limelight for a whole year!” Owen’s comment earned him a scowl from CJ. “Are you gonna talk to them?”
“Yeah, I guess… But not tonight.” CJ peeled his eyes away from the phone and smirked. “I’m gonna shower, eat, and then I’ll call Trip.” Charles Beauregard Houston III―Trip to his friends―was one of the men CJ called “uncle” and a journalist. “Funny he didn’t even send me a text, he’s the one person I can trust to give me space. I’ll give him the story first and then I’ll call the others. Tomorrow.”
Sunday morning, he was the first one up in the house. Once he had a mug of coffee in hand, he sat in front of the TV with the sound muted and his attention on the phone. He was reading the electronic version of the article Trip had filed the previous evening when he heard footsteps on the staircase.
“Morning, dude.” Brett called out to him as the retired Marine walked towards the coffeemaker. “You have more requests for interviews?”
“Morning, Papa. I think so but I haven’t checked. I was reading over Trip’s article again. The Washington Post updated the story overnight.”
“Yeah? What did they change?”
“No changes, they added to it. The woman I was trying to help made a statement late last night. She explained I saved her life twice and I pulled the weapon out when the nut job came at us with a baseball bat.”
“That’s good, right?”
“Hell, yeah! It also says AP issued a directive to anyone using their photo. They’re requiring any use of their copyrighted material include the statement from the lady.”
“Damn! I’m gonna love watching FOX today. Fuckers have to deal with a leftie owning a pea-shooter and being willing to use it in self-defense. It’s gonna mess with their minds.”
Although the photograph of CJ brandishing Lola had gone viral, the notoriety was short-lived. Always searching for a new story, the news media forgot about CJ. His visage disappeared from television screens, replaced by Heather Heyer’s face. The Dodge Challenger CJ avoided getting hit by struck a number of people before crashing into another car. The driver then reversed directions and backed out of the point of impact at high speed, running over some of the battered men and women. About twenty individuals were injured with Heather Heyer losing her life. As if the murder of an unarmed white woman by a white supremacist wasn’t enough, President Donald J. Trump’s statement that both sides were at fault occupied the airwaves, pushing CJ’s story out of the headlines.
A few days later, CJ groused about messages from several members of Congress over dinner. “They’re praising my heroism but temper the nice words by restating their opposition to gun ownership. At least they grudgingly agree I’m someone they can trust to be responsible.”
Owen stopped eating for a moment and glanced at his boyfriend. “Stop whinging. At least they’re calling you a hero.”
“What the fuck’s wrong with these people? I don’t want to be a hero! I’m a fucking teenager and I just want to be a college student!”
Brett and Ritchie giggled at the same time; they found themselves on the receiving end of CJ’s withering glare.
“Fuck you both! Dad? How do I always end up in the middle of this shit?”
“Don’t be silly, CJ. You know exactly why you get the attention. You’re handsome and you always try to do the right thing. Your looks hook them and your words and actions reel them in. It’s not so bad, buddy. Think of the crap coming down on the guy driving that car. He’s about your age and going nowhere. So stop complaining when people praise you for doing what was right. It’s their way of saying thank you.”
“I’ll tell you what, dude”―Brett controlled his laughter long enough to speak―”that picture of you’s going to be on posters all over the place. It’s gonna scare the crap out of the Nazis when they realize you declared hunting season on them open.”
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others.
I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened.
We’re now open for business!