Gun Shy

A Blanco County, Texas, Novel

Blanco County, Texas, Novels (Volume 5)

Ben Rehder

Minotaur Books

Chapter One

Saturday, June 20

National Weapons Alliance Rally

Houston, Texas

Fifty-two years ago, at the tender age of nine, Dale Allen Stubbs fell head over heels in love. He simply couldn’t help himself. The object of his affection was slender and hard, blessed with understated curves that begged for the caress of his young hand.

It was a bolt-action Remington .22 given to him by his grandfather Atticus Stubbs on Dale’s birthday. Christ, what a gun! Oil-finished walnut stock. A twenty-inch barrel with the same blue-black sheen as a raven’s wing. A true thing of beauty. Stubbs’ palms were sweaty with anticipation the first time he cradled that marvelous weapon. For the first week or so, he actually slept with it, the barrel rising up between his legs, little Dale having no understanding of the Freudian implications.

Now, half a century later, the white-hot love affair continued, though Stubbs was by no means monogamous. He’d amassed an arsenal over the years, nearly fifty weapons in total—handguns, rifles, contemporary black-powder muzzleloaders, antique flintlocks and muskets—all housed inside twin burglarproof safes, with a certified fire-protection rating of more than sixteen hundred degrees. Had to protect his babies, you know.

Of course, like a father with many children, he had his favorites. His Winchester Model 70, a pre-1964 specimen, chambered in .375 H&H Magnum. His L. C. Smith side-by-side twelve-gauge with rear oval lock plates, manufactured in 1898. Monogram grade. Extremely rare. And the centerpiece of his collection—a pair of Colt Model 1849 pocket percussion revolvers, inscribed to Major C. Smith.

Yes, he loved each and every one. A lot. More than his six-bedroom home with its state-of-the-art security system. More than Dexter, his five-thousand-dollar bird dog. More than his brand-new fully loaded Chevrolet crew-cab pickup. Yes, even more than sex—with Margie, his wife of twenty-five years, or with Tricia, his twenty-four-year-old secretary, who captured Stubbs’ heart when he discovered that she carried a snubnose .38 in her handbag.

The only thing that maybe, just maybe, stirred Dale Stubbs’ passion more than guns was speaking to other people who held the same convictions he did. Preaching the gospel of Truth gave him a sense of satisfaction more profound than dropping a charging Cape buffalo (which he had done on three separate occasions).

Now, as he strutted onto the dais, preparing to address a crowd of four thousand—true patriots, every last one of them—Stubbs was feeling an all-time high. Adrenaline flowed through his heart like water through a hose. The audience rose to its feet, clapping and cheering wildly.

It was amazing, really, he thought. A simple country boy had managed to reach dizzying heights, turning his fondness for guns into not just a lucrative career but a higher calling. He was making a difference in the world, by God. He was president of the Texas chapter of the National Weapons Alliance, the most powerful lobbying organization in the world. As such, he lived for moments like this.

As the applause slowly ebbed, Stubbs adjusted the microphone. The opening line of a speech was always the most important one, and Stubbs was up to the task. Using the deepest, most charismatic voice he could muster, he said, “I wanna welcome y’all to Houston . . . where great Americans still recognize the value of freedom!”

The crowd went berserk.

Right on cue, thousands of red, white, and blue balloons dropped from the rafters. Someone backstage cranked the music to a deafening level. Men in Stetsons proudly waved flags and banners. The pandemonium lasted a full minute. Stubbs simply waited, beaming, enjoying every last moment of it.

Finally, just as the auditorium began to settle down, a buxom blond girl wearing minuscule shorts, a tight NWA T-shirt, and a cowboy hat yelled, “We love you, Dale!”

“I love you, too, sweetheart,” Dale replied cheerfully.

That elicited a booming round of good-natured laughter, followed by more hearty applause.

“In fact, I love all of you,” Stubbs continued, taking the microphone in hand like a television evangelist. “Each and every one of you is a soldier in the battle to keep our great country strong.”

Another eruption, almost as long as the first. He expected it; he’d carefully crafted his speech to draw reactions at key moments. You had to control the audience, just as you controlled your pacing and your content. Sometimes, though, you needed a little help, and that’s why Stubbs had asked one of his assistants to plant the blond girl in the third row. Just a little parlor trick to get him off on the right foot. Now Stubbs raised one hand, palm outward, and the audience grew silent. It was as impressive as Moses parting the Red Sea.

“It’s apparent that we’re all in a great mood this morning, and for good reason. The National Weapons Alliance, I’m proud to say, is stronger today than it has ever been. Granted, we’ve faced treachery on many fronts in the past decade. In the nineties, a weak-minded and short-sighted president attempted to usurp the power of the American people.”

Boos all around. Stubbs nodded sympathetically.

“More recently, misguided cities and counties, and even a few states, tried to sue the gun manufacturers out of existence. But were we daunted or discouraged or defeated? No sir! We did what our daddies would’ve done. We persevered! We fought back, using the second most effective weapon we have: our God-given right to vote. From state capitals around the nation, all the way to Washington, our voice was heard as one—and that voice said the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed!”

The audience sprang to its feet. A standing ovation! Quoting the Second Amendment was always a surefire winner. This outbreak was the longest one yet! Stubbs basked in the glow and waited for the calm before he proceeded.

“Now we are in a position to ensure liberty for generations to come, for our children and our grandchildren. We have a friend in the White House—a great man who understands that we, the common citizens, must always remain vigilant as we stand guard against tyranny. He’s one of us, my friends, and you have yourselves to thank because you put him there!”

Applause for ten seconds. About what Stubbs had expected because, let’s face it, the president did have certain flaws. His intelligence was questionable. His diplomatic skills were suspect. He was often nervous and clumsy in front of a camera. Plus, to get picky, he didn’t even have a gun rack in the truck he used on his ranch. What kind of message did that send? Ah, well, you did your best with what you had, and one of Stubbs’ jobs was to make the NWA’s strengths appear indomitable.

“But, as we have all learned over the years, we cannot become complacent. We cannot rest on our laurels and our accomplishments. The antigun zealots and the liberal media are quick to jump on even the smallest crack in our armor. Take the incident last month in Springfield, Massachusetts, where one of our members—Zelda Grimby, a retired algebra teacher—mistakenly thought her postman was a burglar and shot him in the groin. Did the reporters mention that Zelda was fully licensed to own a handgun? No, they did not. Did they mention that Zelda lived in a high-crime area? Somehow they overlooked that. They focused solely on the fact that the mail carrier lost a testicle, and the second one was badly damaged. Yes, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever father children, but”—Stubbs paused for effect, then came back stronger than ever—“I’d say that’s a small price to pay for a strong and well-armed republic!”

Wild cheering proved that Stubbs was right. He had the audience eating out of his hand. Time to wrap this up and get out on a high note. Move on to the barbecue and a cold beer.

“The point is, we must keep up the good fight, and that is the reason we are all here today. We have gathered to show our unified support for a man who, with our help, will be elected the next governor of the state of Texas. I’m speaking of a man who will push to fully expand our Second Amendment rights, making it legal for law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in Texas without a permit. I’m referring to a good friend of mine by the name of Congressman Glenn Andrew Dobbins!”

This was the moment the crowd had been waiting for. They quickly began a chant: Daw-bins! Daw-bins! Daw-bins! They waved placards and hand-painted signs. Khaki-clad men kissed khaki-clad women with joyous exuberance. Somewhere in the back, someone played “Deep in the Heart of Texas” very poorly on a trombone.

After a minute, Stubbs tried one of his usual settle-down gestures, but even that didn’t work. He simply had to wait it out, and he didn’t mind at all. If this was any indication, the NWA’s candidate was a shoo-in come November. Finally, after nearly two minutes, the ruckus began to subside.

“Unfortunately,” Stubbs said, “Congressman Dobbins was unable to join us today. But as you know, this is only the first of many rallies to be held in the next few months. Fort Worth. San Antonio. Midland. Abilene. Not Austin, thank you very much.”

Stubbs waited for the chuckles that line merited, and he was amply rewarded. No, Austin, the liberal bastion of Texas, would not be hosting an NWA rally. No way. Not a city that had more anti-gunners than the remainder of the state combined. The rest of Texas—that’s where the NWA intended to spread its message.

“In fact, two weeks from today,” he said, “on Independence Day, we’ll be convening in the heartland of our state . . . in Blanco County, just outside Johnson City, and I know Congressman Dobbins intends to be there to thank each of you for your support. Because make no mistake—it is you, the rank and file, the front-line troops—who are the backbone of our organization!”

Pure pandering, but they ate it up. Audience members slapped each other’s backs and exchanged high fives.

“Speaking of the Blanco County rally,” Stubbs said, switching to a folksy delivery for a moment, “I have a very special announcement to make, and this just tickles me to death.” He paused again to build the drama, studying the crowd with what was meant to come across as genuine affection. “We’ve been holding the location of the rally back as a surprise, and now I can share it with you.”

A buzz was starting to build. This was going to be big, Stubbs had no doubt of that.

“I’m pleased to say that it will take place at a ranch owned by—hold on to your hats, friends!—none other than our newest spokesman, star of our latest radio and television ads, country music superstar Mitch Campbell!”

The audience responded with an outburst unlike any Stubbs had ever seen or heard. Even the gleeful cheers for Dobbins paled by comparison. Stubbs did his best to speak over the uproar.

“Mitch Campbell, I think we’d all agree, is a fine representative for the NWA. His smash-hit song ‘My Cold, Dead Hands’ has brought in a quarter million new members nationally in the last six months alone!”

Was anyone even listening at this point? It was hard to tell above the melee.

“Mitch offers a powerful new voice for responsible gun ownership!”

Lusty female shrieks ascended to the heavens.

“He is a man of ethics!”

Men whistled and stomped and shot imaginary pistols into the air.

“A man of virtue!”

An overweight woman near the front swooned and cracked her head on a speaker assembly.

“A man of strong moral fiber and good old-fashioned Christian values!”

The hall was now a full-on madhouse.

“The kind of man the NWA can be proud to call its own!”

The crowd had taken up a new chant—Campbell! Campbell! Campbell!—and Stubbs knew, without question, that the NWA was about to enter its golden age.

Copyright © 2007 by Ben Rehder. All rights reserved.