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Crime
Angst
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Co-Writer Paul Robison*
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#18
Paul Robison
Feb 14, 2018
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5
9 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!te56l8Ex5pP8s0ci65ZOposted on PENANA

For a week nothing whatever happened in Masawaksa to require Theo's attention.  He watched for speeders, checked locks, and patrolled streets, but nothing occurred that could take his mind off the boy.  The story was run prominently in the Anchorage Sentinel, and Theo hoped that someone might read it and come forward to identify the boy, but there was not a single phone call.  He covered his steps again, talked to the people who lived on the ridge near the bluff, examined again the path to the bluff, and racked his brain to think of some other sensible step to take, but he could not.  As each avenue of investigation proved fruitless, he turned more to Frank's theory of a murder among hoboes; it made sense; it fit the facts in every respect; but he could not drive the thought from his mind that there was a killer loose in town, and there was nothing he could do about it!9Please respect copyright.PENANApTGhrO09vx
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At home he'd always been a quiet yet affectionate father and husband, but now he was oddly silent and the children tiptoed around him.  Delia didn't.  She bore his preoccupation for a day or two, bustling around the house in her accustomed manner, cooking, sweeping, dusting, scolding children; then she had had enough. When the children were in bed she removed his feet from the stool in front of his easy chair, sat on the stool, and looked at him closely. "It seems to me that if you're going to be able to live with this job you're going to have to maintain some detachment from it."copyright protection5PENANARWsW2N5Hkb

"I know, but it's hard. Especially in this instance." He had told her little more than he had the newspaper.copyright protection5PENANA6akzawRgBR

"You're new at the job, but it seems you've done everything any policeman could do under the circumstances. Would Frank Romanov have done anything you haven't?"copyright protection5PENANA4PXnuSQlej

"I asked him that.  He said not."  Theo also felt that Frank had now withdrawn any help he might've offered, because of their conversation about the Knights, but he didn't say so to Delia.9Please respect copyright.PENANAWj3mQfuncQ
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"Why can't you find some peace in that?"copyright protection5PENANAk6kEGubxKN

"I should be able to, yeah, but I haven't."copyright protection5PENANApPCnd7f3su

"Then I think you should pray about it. I'll pray for you, too."copyright protection5PENANAm1AC2DURLV

"Thank you, honey.  I know that'll help."copyright protection5PENANA162lKIQVfA

"You haven't been paying much attention to me lately, you know."copyright protection5PENANAJFql2DthHW

He smiled down at her and pulled her into his lap.  "Are the children asleep?"copyright protection5PENANAM3YmG1ZATL

"Like stones."copyright protection5PENANAwURygCg6yw


Theo finally found distraction from routine and from his state of mind when court met in Rawson, the Peter the Great County seat.  His testimony was needed in the matter of the robbery of the Bank of Masawaksa, since he was the arresting officer of the Benes brothers.  The 20-mile drive took nearly an hour over a pitted, badly paved road that was still the best in the county.copyright protection5PENANAHhb8DdM6vt

Rawson was a pretty town by Alaska standards.  Dating from the 1870s, it presented a handsome, red-brick, white-domed courthouse set in a spacious square of neat stores and green grass, and out on the Mad Cossack road there were graceful examples of Tsarist Russian architecture, set among carefully tended spruce and birch trees.  It was one of those rare Alaskan towns that conformed to the western myth.  The streets in the square were twice the breadth of Main Street in Makawaska and offered ample room for the horse-drawn wagons of farmers and the cars of local merchants.  As Theo drove into the little town, the square was teeming with people, for the opening of court was a semigala occasion, offering a chance to see distant neighbors, to window-shop on the square, and to transact a little business at the bank or at one of the vegetable farms which still clung to existence despite the pestilence of the aphid.copyright protection5PENANA3hx1Ed3EOW

Theo thought, as he pulled into a parking space reserved for court officers and the sheriff's department, that the lack of money showed in the crowd.  Clothes were clean, but patched; the women looked longingly into the store windows, but most stayed outside; there were too many children selling sandwiches and fruit and homemade preserves to an unbuying crowd; and the men stood about in groups, a vacant, stunned look about hat, talking, but not laughing much.  Since the Purchase, as it was called in this part of Alaska, these people had had little, and had perhaps not  had much before that.  Only the land.  During the boom that had come with the Great War they had hoped for a future; they had worked harder and borrowed more for seed and equipment.  Unused land had been cleared and planted in more of the single crop, cotton.  The war ended, and with it the boom, and meanwhile, out of the mainland U.S. a plague of Biblical proportions began moving northwest at the rate of sixty miles a year.copyright protection5PENANApkRhS8U9fs

They saw it coming.  Deputations were sent who looked, came back, and said, yes, the aphid was destroying crops, something must be done.  But no one knew what to do.  Some tried to diversify, buying pigs or chickens, but there was no market for these products, no economic system to connect farmer to consumer. And so, even when the aphid crossed the Yukon River, men were still planting crops and hoping.  Nobody but a farmer can understand what it means to clear land, plow, plant, then come to harvest and find nothing but dust in his hands and the note due at the bank.copyright protection5PENANAFWKR5n4RuA

Theo knew, as he picked his way through the crowd, exchanging a greeting here and there, that all that stood between many of these people and starvation was the fact that a prudent farm family could produce much of what it needed, keep a few chickens, grow vegetables and put them up for winter, pick berries and crap apples and make preserves, make clothes from flour sacks and mend them repeatedly. And there were quail, bear, rabbit, squirrel, moose and 'possum for the boys to shoot if enough preserves and sandwiches could be sold in town to buy ammunition.  Theo thanked God it hadn't come to that for his family.copyright protection5PENANAlxRSzv6DaU

He found Frank in his office, a place of oiled floors, cigar smoke, and spittoons; it was filled with bewildered people waiting for justice for their kin, wondering whether their husbands and sons would come home with them t hat night or go with Frank to the county camp, and how it'd come to this.  The two men went together into the high-ceilinged courtroom, with its hard benches and yellowing paint, and chatted idly up front as the milling throng filed in, Eskimos in the balcony, whites downstairs.  Frank excused himself and left through a side door to find his prisoners, and Theo seated himself on a front bench and waited to be called.  He was not kept waiting long.copyright protection5PENANAzAfqR8zMhO

A clerk bustled in, dumped a load of papers on his table, and yelled into the din, "Order in the court!  The superior court of the fourth district of Alaska is now in session.  Hizzoner Bennett C. Lyons presiding! All rise!"copyright protection5PENANAeXLYOQmSIQ

All rose, and Judge Bennett Lyons strode to his bench and rapped twice. "Be seated. Call the first case."copyright protection5PENANAs3okWYQ3B0

"The territory of Alaska versus Q. and S. Benes!"copyright protection5PENANAYaAdBslaeC

A side door opened, and the Beneses, accompanied by Frank Romanov, entered, blinking in the sunlight which was streaming through the room's large windows.  They were directed to face the bench, where they were joined by their attorney, Cody Starcher, a courthouse fixture for twenty years.copyright protection5PENANAZtAKsoAOgj

"Read the charge."copyright protection5PENANAFJn33j1TnD

"It is charged that on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty-one, the defendants, Q. Benes and S. Benes, did enter the premises of the Bank of Masawaksa and Masawaksa, in the county of Peter the Great, in the territory of Alaska, and did, by use of force and with firearms, unlawfully take money in the sum of $740.40 in violation of section five one five four of the penal code of Alaska!"copyright protection5PENANAUlNuypWUAb

"How do the defendants plead?" asked the Judge, turning to Cody Starcher.9Please respect copyright.PENANAQSdrR3NRXL
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Starcher stepped forward and assumed an almost reverent tone.  "Your Honor, the defendants both plead guilty to the charge as read, and, being unable to raise bail, request immediate sentencing.  In sentencing I would ask the court to consider that these boys are from an honest family and that neither has ever been in serious trouble before.  I would also point out that nobody was injured in this incident and that very little damage to property occurred. When faced with arrest for their offense, the defendants readily surrendered and offered no resistance, and I submit that this incident occurred only because of a rare overindulgence on New Year's Eve, the previous night.  The defendants beg consideration of these circumstances and the mercy of the court."9Please respect copyright.PENANAwnFcE61Egw
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The judge turned to the county attorney, Rimose Dreyer.  "Does the territory wish to comment before I sentence?"9Please respect copyright.PENANAcdQgzGv34H
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Dreyer shuffled forward.  "Yes, Your Honor.  The Northeast Borough Sherriff's Office  has advised me that the defendants have on three other occasions been arrested on drunk and disorderly charges and on occasion have served thirty days in the Northeast Borough jail on such charges."  Cody Starcher shot an uncharacteristically sharp glance at the Beneses, who blushed and looked guilty.  Dreyer went on.  "I would also point out that the car which they were driving and the weapons which they used in the bank robbery were stolen and that a warrant for their arrest in Northeast Borough has been issued on charges arising from these thefts.  The territory cannot, therefore, join in a recommendation for clemency in this case." He handed the judge a sheet of paper. "This is a true copy of their record of prior arrests and of the Northeast Borough warrants."9Please respect copyright.PENANAUUA7msb9j9
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The judge read the sheet of paper, placed it on his desk, and directed his attention to the two boys, who stood with their hands cuffed behind him, staring at the floor. "The defendants will step forward."  The boys moved toward the  bench and looked sheepishly up at the judge.  "The court accepts the plea of guilty to the charge and accedes to the request for immediate sentencing.  After consideration of the defense request for mercy and the statements as to the past conduct of the defendants by the county attorney, I sentence you boys to twenty years of hard labor at the county prison camp.  However, in consideration of the facts that nobody was hurt, that no resistance was offered to arrest, and the absence of any previous felony conviction, I will suspend the last two years of the sentence, on condition of good behavior."  He rapped sharply with his gavel. "Next case."9Please respect copyright.PENANAVPwB2aH3PY
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Frank led the bewildered boys out of the courtroom, followed by their attorney, and the clerk began to call for the next case over a hum of conversation in the courtroom.  The whole process had taken less than three minutes.9Please respect copyright.PENANAA1bqhK7NOb
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Theo sat, nearly as bewildered as the Beneses.  They would pay at least eighteen years of their lives for fifteen minutes of drunken foolishness.  He left the courtroom and drove back to Maskawaksa, his journey to Rawson wasted.  All the way back he dwelt on the contrast between the imprisonment of the Beneses and the continuing freedom of the unknown boy's murderer.9Please respect copyright.PENANAvI65Qsx1CQ
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He's my murderer, Theo thought, and I'm his pursuer. We belong to each other. I must find him, if it takes all of my life.9Please respect copyright.PENANAaxFH8HSQLH
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