[Media prompt] Jeremy Corbyn urges people to ‘occupy’ empty homes as supporters plan ‘Day of Rage’.
Days of Rage
Light shimmered on the polished table tops as he waited for the waitress. Knotholes glimmered darkly from decades of stains and burns and elbow-grease. Two matching glass salt and pepper shakers gleamed in the centre of the wooden square, their brass screw-top lids rubbed clean.
Jack Burnett slid the stiff plastic menu upright between the shakers as Maureen made her way between tables towards him. “You’re busy,” he said, glancing around. “Busy’s good,” she replied. Her voice was low, but she enunciated so precisely that it was a joy to hear. A boy seated near the counter caught his eye, looking at him without inhibition. Jack smiled easily, raising his large hand in a half salute. The boy leant over to his father and said something, his eyes shining. “In ten years you’ll probably be arresting him,” Maureen said, winking at him as she wrote down his order.
Burnett ate slowly, chewing with his mouth closed. The diner’s frontage was glass, from floor to curved ceiling, washed clean, never a soap streak or a sliver of grime. Not in the all the years he had been stopping for breakfast. Besides the boy, the customers were around his age, mid-thirties to early fifties. Most he knew. It was too early for the holiday-makers. He could match most of cars arrayed neatly outside the window with the people inside.
Jack Burnett finished his coffee. “I’ll see you later,” he called out to Maureen, leaving a bill and change on the table.
The sunlight dazzled outside, reflecting off the waters of Lake Champlain as though the whole of Maquam Bay were on fire. As soon as he pulled out onto the highway, Janet radioed him.
“Jack, we got a report of suspicious activity in North Hero, possible property damage. Suspects may still be on site.”
“Got that,” he said, “I’m close.”
“There’s one other thing.”
He waited for her to continue, accelerating northward along Highway Two, empty of traffic. After a moment of silence he clicked on the mic and said, “Janet?”
“It’s the Sanders’ residence.”
“The one and only,” she said.
He sighed. “I’ll be there in ten.”
In the weeks after the socialist firebrand paid over half a million for his third house, there had been more reporters and film crews on North Hero than locals. Confusion reigned for almost a month. The Bern was not as popular out here as the media made out, and many resented him upending their island idyll. There had been rumours of burning the place to the ground, and Jack had wasted whole days cruising past the property for no greater outcome than using fuel.
When he pulled into the drive, Jack marvelled again at how even the poorest of Congressmen could buy holiday houses. But all thoughts of this were pushed aside when he saw the front door had been forced, hanging open on a single hinge. As he stepped out of the car, he saw a curtain move at one of the windows, a face disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. The gravel crunched under his boots, and Jack felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He leaned for a second on the handrail before mounting the steps to the veranda.
“Police,” he called out.
Surprisingly, a young woman appeared before him. She pulled her ragged blonde hair into a pony tail, looking at Jack as though he had come to mend the door.
“What do you want?” she said in a piercing voice.
“What I want is you outside showing me an ID.”
She let her hair go, placing hands on hips, studying him with squinted eyes. A boy came into view, standing in the darkness behind her.
“We’ve got a right to be here,” he said over the girl’s shoulder. He was bare-chested, a tattoo of Che Guevara on one pectoral muscle. Jack remembered what it was like to be young and righteously certain. The sooner someone knocked some sense into you, the better.
“Yeah,” said the girl. “This is an empty residence, and in the name of the people we’re occupying it. Why should we go homeless when the rich have plenty to spare?”
Jack walked back to his car, calling it in. He was not paid enough to arbitrate between wealthy college kids playing at being radicals and old men pretending to be socialists. He would let the chief in Montpelier deal with this one.