John Montgomery Simmons took care of himself. He always had.
This evening, he could barely muster a sigh as he rolled up the window of his 2019 Ford Respite, which muffled only a little the taunts and jeers of the protestors crowding the street in front of his home. They slapped his hood and roof, and waved placards that made demands of his FAIR SHARE or that he participate in something called EQUAL INCOME / EQUAL OUTCOME. Some of the protestors couldn’t be bothered to rise from squatting against his fence, holding (or — in most cases — propping up) their own signs. The municipal street sweepers hadn’t come yet this week, and the offal of the ever-present campsite permeated the filtered air vents of the Respite.
It was the same scene as yesterday, and the day before that, stretching back for more yesterdays than Simmons could be bothered to recall. There had been a day when things were different for him — a day when he drove a nicer looking car, lived in a larger house and ate better meals. But at least the car was his, the house was his, and he chose what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Responsibility! That’s what drove Simmons — that gut instinct to be self-sufficient, to take pride in that.
Something wet smacked his windshield. He casually turned on the wipers and continued nosing the compact forward. The crowd slowly parted like a Red Sea of unwashed masses. The sixty mile-per-gallon vehicle was the last one produced by the manufacturer, the only one that year, and it was specifically for the only man who could afford it at the time: John Montgomery Simmons. It also performed with better gas mileage than the government issued hybrids everyone else drove, none of which mattered to the middle-aged woman with matted hair and a denim headband who pressed her face against his driver’s side window and shouted a muffled slogan about fossil fuels and Mother Earth.
As he approached the turn to his driveway, a trio of uniformed police finally began politely asking people to clear a path. Simmons waited as the unarmed officers took their usual berating. Several minutes and a few skirmishes later — skirmishes captured by a dozen or more handheld cameras that streamed the incidents to the Internet, where they were quickly tagged with labels of “fascist,” “police brutality,” and “peaceful protesters” — a gap opened, just wide enough to squeeze the car into the driveway. An egg popped against the back glass. He’d have to wash the vehicle tonight. Again.
John Montgomery Simmons prepared his own meals. He couldn’t stand the idea of subjecting a delivery person to the fate of running the human gauntlet that was his landscape, and cooking gave him the freedom to use as much salt and sugar as he wanted. Sitting down with a plate no restaurant could have served without a hefty fine from the Health Inspector General, he opened his briefcase and began to pore over reports — charts and graphs of the four different companies over which Simmons presided as CEO, and several other companies for which he served as a contracted consultant. At one time in his life, his work ethic had made him wealthy. He was just handling one company then. Now he needed the extra jobs, for which he pulled down the astronomical salary of $327 billion a year — or $327 trillion if one believed the latest flyers circulating with the caricature of his face sporting a Hitler-esque brush mustache. Either way, the amount was thought by many to be an obscene amount of money, until one took into account the Fair Assessment Tax Collection and Appropriation for the Treasury Act (FATCAT), railroaded through Congress during the Winter Solstice recess of 2016. This allowed Simmons to make as much as he wished, but at his current income rate, his take home netted him just under two thousand dollars a week.
As he penciled down annotations to the documents spread across his coffee table, he picked up snippets of useless information from the Public Approved News and Entertainment Megachannel. PANEM had been born out of the ashes of the defunct FCC, formed when the government bailed out the foundering cable industry and merged the various broadcast entities into one, while effectively squeezing competing networks off the air. The television provided background noise to Simmons. Even the most controversial stories — about him, usually — barely rated more than a glance from him, just to see if any of the protest slogans had gotten any more creative.
Tonight, however, was different. Tonight, the story was decidedly about him, although his name was never brought up once. The whiskey gravel voice that drew his attention belonged to the President of the United States as she addressed the Congress. This, in Simmons’ experience, was never a good thing, and was the only kind of broadcast that would make Simmons take notice.
President Eva Norton, the first elected official from the recently established Occupy Party, came into power on a wave of populism that sprung up when the percentage of those citizens paying taxes fell below that of those receiving the benefits, tipping the balance irrevocably and putting the federal budget into a tailspin. Her prior political experience, writing a poorly-researched anarchist blog that found popularity thanks to a well-organized interbreeding of social media platforms, gave her just enough face recognition value to be taken seriously among the ever-increasing numbers of disenchanted voters who eagerly bought into the vague, nebulous party line.
She smiled into the camera — then adjusted her profile to face the active camera — so that she looked directly out of Simmons’ screen with a stare that always seemed disconcertingly vacant and piercing. “My fellow Americans,” she began. Simmons thumbed up the volume on his remote. “It is with a resounding pride in our country and what it can do for us that I stand before this august body, to preside over the passage of this crucial and urgent bill that will save the jobs of dozens of sign painters.”
Simmons grimaced. Norton continued. “With the recently enacted regulations, introduced by my Street Communications Czar, Deanna Sunshine Glimmers, we have succeeded in reducing emissions from our paint factories by three thousand percent!” The Vice President sat behind her, smiling and softly clapping his hands. Still smiling, still clapping, he leaned forward and whispered something in Norton’s ear.
“Three thousandths of a percent,” Norton restated, undaunted. “This was an environmental necessity if we were to preserve the habitat of the wetlands surrounding a number of our paint manufacturing facilities.” She put on her serious face. “Sadly, many manufacturers have elected to raise the cost of paint, forcing consumers to pay the cost of their compliance.”
Simmons sighed. Brite-Glo Paints was one of the companies he consulted for, and the increased retail price of the paint — his suggestion — had been kept to a bare minimum that scarcely kept the plant afloat.
“This is exactly the kind of corporate pillaging we’ve fought so long and hard to put down,” Norton said forcefully. “And so Congress convenes tonight in this emergency session to vote upon my legislation that will subsidize the cost of paint for all our patriotic sign painters throughout our fair land. This is good for them. It is good for their families. And it is good for Americans.”
With that, the Speaker of the House began being reading a summary of the legislation into the congressional record. The summary included the amounts to be subsidized and the ancillary tax increases that would be required to offset the costs to the budget. The summary having been concluded, the Congress was then asked for a straight up or down vote.
Simmons did the math. He had always been good with numbers. It was part of what had made him so successful with money. He ticked off the FICA, the withholdings, the percentages and the net. It was, he had found, easy to do these days with the elimination of shelters and deductions.
The math was simplicity itself.
Resignedly, Simmons stood up off the sofa and went to “The Armory.” It was time, he had decided, for revolt.
Years before, when the socio-economic slide was just beginning, many of Simmons friends and neighbors back in the old neighborhood declared themselves ready for the future, having amassed stockpiles of food, weapons and ammunition. He grimly recalled their vows to defy the government, should it ever fully outlaw gun ownership and other rights of the citizenry. Of course, when that day was finally upon them, they did nothing but go along to get along. He shook his head.
Even then, with his foresight, he knew they hadn’t fully grasped the situation. The solution wasn’t going to be found in having more guns than you could hold and more bullets than you could shoot.
Simmons reverently took “The Armory” off its shelf — a hardcover copy of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Opening the cover revealed the hollowed out pages, the cavity containing the entirety of his revolution: one (highly illegal) Colt revolver, and one (far more illegal) bullet.
As the unanimous vote tally scrolled across the bottom of his screen, he loaded the chamber and clicked it into place.
As President Norton smiled into the camera — smiled directly into his living room, directly at him — he gently closed the cover to Smith’s opus, positioned it centrally on the coffee table atop all his work, and sat back comfortably on the sofa.
As the Speaker of the House gleefully intoned, “Madame President, the motion carries,” thunder cracked in John Montgomery Smith’s living room, momentarily drowning out the applause of the chamber.
John Montgomery Simmons took care of himself.
He always had.