Take the Reason Prisoner
by John Joseph McGuire
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

"Clarens had no military experience!" Scott said.

"No, but he's read a lot—that came out at the trial—and he's under pressure, so he'll remember what he read," Bennington said.

"Tell me this way you can walk invisible across a lighted bridge," and Scott was still unconvinced.

"You don't walk over, you ride over," Mosby said. "I would work it this way.

"I would stop in a bar and buy a drink that made me smell five feet away. I would order and get rid of a couple more of them, very quickly, then I would tip the bartender to call me a cab.

"And by the way, of course I wouldn't be drinking any after the first one.

"But when the cabbie came, I'd offer him a drink, wave a big bill or two that meant a good tip, and give him a good address—for instance, the hotel that takes up the biggest space in the yellow pages of the telephone book.

"I would get into the back seat of the cab still holding on to the biggest bill or two out of those we took from the cleaning truck and I would pretend to fall asleep.

"With that cab driver convinced that he's hauling a drunk just aching to give away a big tip—and any normal human being perfectly sure that a wanted killer would never walk into a bar, get loaded and order a cab to take him to the biggest hotel in town—what are my chances, Chief Scott?"

* * * * *

The chief did not answer directly. Instead, "And I'll bet he wins that appeal he's got going, too."

"What did you say, Chief Scott?" Bennington asked.

"We got the word a while ago from Delaware by teletype. Clarens has three good lawyers fighting an appeal from the conviction on every grounds you can think of, including that the confession was beaten out of him.

"That's why I hope he wants to fight when I catch up with him, and that's what Delaware hopes, too.

"But here comes Dr. Thornberry, General Mosby. Let's ask him why Clarens hides so well when he says he wants to be caught."

Thornberry pursed his lips so tightly that his face became a skull's head, then he answered.

"In some areas of human behavior...." he began.

"Dalton," Bennington interrupted, "does he make a game out of getting away when he's caught?"

Thornberry's face became almost human with a big smile. "Oh, yes, obviously."

"Could that energy he puts into escaping be channeled, led, educated—in some way—to constructive thinking? Put it this way: could Dalton be led to thinking about making a jail escape-proof?"

"A most excellent therapy," and Thornberry was actually beaming. "General Bennington, I am beginning to have great hopes for our work together as we start to see more and more eye to eye."

"Let's go back to Clarens," Bennington said. "Son of wealthy parents, a good education, the only child in a family who seemed to have everything, including parents who loved both each other and the child—why does he kill, ask to be caught, and then hide so well?

"What therapy does your science have for him, Dr. Thornberry?"

Thornberry's lip-pursing again made his face a skeleton's.

"There are areas of human behavior—"

* * * * *

Bennington observed that Scott and Mosby had turned away from the conversation to the immediacies of patrol distribution. Scott was being eloquent on how lighting cut down crime and Mosby was analyzing the idea in terms of house-to-house combat at night under slow-dropping flares.

For further insurance of privacy, Bennington pulled Thornberry into the corner of the room most removed from the others.

"Doctor, let's forget about Clarens for a moment. I want to talk about Judkins."

"Yes, general."

"How did you hypnotize him? And don't hand me any of that stuff about him being sensitive because of his job."

Thornberry smiled. "You've seen too many conditioned men, and in a way I'm surprised that I got past Chief Scott with my ... General Mosby should have been more alert, too.

"You're right, it was his skin, not his job."

"I'm still puzzled."

"I won't go into the physical structure of the man, his character as revealed by his choice of profession, and so on. Briefly, he is hyper-sensitive to the thought of physical pain, that's all. So I gave him a simple choice. Talk to us in such a way that what he said could never be used against him, or go for a ride with you, Chief Scott, and General Mosby.

"This is very odd, a fact I must further check into, that your name frightened him most."

"You threatened someone with violence!"

Thornberry sniffed. "It was no threat. I knew the man and simply appealed to him in the proper way. Then with the spray of cannabis indica that I carry, I speeded his willingness—"


"Please don't be so shocked!" and Thornberry was horrified that Bennington should be shocked. "The prescription I use is a carefully compounded medical dosage specifically prepared to promote suggestibility...."

"Doctor, I am not in the least suggesting that you would use any method or drug not thoroughly commended by your profession.

"In addition, I am delighted beyond expression that you found some way to learn what we needed from Judkins.

"But, just as I was surprised that your profession did find a use for a drug previously condemned, I now want to be surprised in another way:

"What can you do for someone like Clarens?"

Thornberry's lips came together and his cheeks began to pull in. Bennington resigned himself to hearing again the phrase, "There are some areas of human behavior—"

* * * * *

"Car 17, at M dash 9, Code Two Zero, times two. Standing by for instructions."

Bennington turned to watch Chief Scott's big fore-fingers travel a line from the side and a line from the top that brought them together on the big map. "Signs of breaking and entering, down on Hickory, where it's all big warehouses."

Thornberry leaped to the chief's side. "Lonely at this time of night? Dark? Not too many people?"

"Right on every count," Scott said. "Only a few night watchmen."

"This should be carefully checked," and Thornberry started for the door.

Scott turned to the dispatcher. "Tell them just to keep the place under observation until I get there."

There was an odd eagerness about the chief, odd until Bennington remembered Scott's grim analysis of Clarens' behavior, the chief's hope that Clarens would resist arrest.

And why do I now recall that time in Burma when I followed the wounded tiger into the cave?

What was I thinking of at the time?

Thornberry had disappeared into the corridor, but for once even the prospect of immediate action was not enough to get the impetuous Mosby out the door ahead of Scott.

Was I thinking of mercy, that I could not let a wounded beast which could not destroy itself live with continual pain? Thornberry would never agree, but Clarens is certainly both wounded and incapable of self-destruction.

Thornberry was already seated in the back of the car. Mosby was ready to seat himself in the front, Scott was opening the door to slide in behind the driver's wheel, but Bennington did not change his steady pace.

Retribution and punishment, because the tiger had killed human beings? No, no and never no, for these are worthless without understanding by the person upon whom they are visited. A baby understands not the reason why, but only the whack across its buttocks when its fingers or its life are in danger, and that action is thence forward "reject"; but Clarens is not a baby and a baby is not a tiger, with all three having only this in common, that 'don't do this' is a mystery....

Bennington seated himself beside Thornberry in the rear of Scott's sedan, more aware of his thoughts than his movements.

For a moment the whine of the turbine was high, the gleam of the headlights low, then they were on their way.

* * * * *

Hickory Street was a fast three-minute run from the police station.

"Nothing but warehouses," Scott said. "We're a big trans-shipment center."

The narrow, one-way streets and the broad-shouldered bulk of the big buildings emphasized what the chief had said. The railroads and the rivers were still the most economical way to ship the space-taking stuff, coal, steel, grain. Harrisburg was a crossroads where the east-west and north-south main lines met, with a natural growth of the long warehouses at the intersection.

Scott spun the driver's wheel to the left and cut the car lights. "Hickory Street."

It is a lonely place at night, Bennington decided.

Thornberry leaned forward from the back seat of the car, leaned forward so far between Scott and Mosby that his thin nose almost touched the front window.

"Ideal, ideal, just the way Clarens would be thinking."

"Thank God we found Judkins," Mosby said, "but say, that reminds me. Why didn't he take the first plane or train out of town? He had plenty of time before we knew we wanted him."

Thornberry pulled himself back, re-condensed his lean frame in the left corner of the back seat. "He was waiting for Senator Giles to pay him off and tell him where to hide out."

Chief Scott idled his car to a halt beside another dark-blue sedan almost invisible in the shadowed street.

A figure loomed large in the shadows, came forward and identified itself.

"Patrolman Whelton, sir, and Sergeant Kerr is in the back."

Somehow Scott managed to return the salute while at the same time disentangling himself from his seat-belt and from behind the driver's wheel.

"What did you spot?"

"According to orders, we were riding the alleys and we saw that the window had been broken since our last inspection."

They were in a tight group around the young patrolman because Whelton had spoken in a soft, church-going whisper. Now Mosby walked away from the group, thoughtfully fingering the ivory-handled butts of his revolvers, but returning to the group when Scott began speaking.

"Thanks, General Mosby. They couldn't have checked the alleys as often as they did without your men helping out on the streets. This way, we caught it fast."

"Sir, we can't find the watchman for this area," and Patrolman Whelton was very worried.

"Watchman?" Mosby asked.

"Fire-warden would be more accurate," Scott said. "He isn't here to prevent theft. The stuff in these buildings is too big to steal without a convoy of trucks that would awaken the whole town. But he does have a definite route, with fixed posts where he clocks in."

Two more cars drifted to a halt, disgorged men armed with shotguns and submachine guns.

Scott rubbed his chin thoughtfully, gave his orders carefully, obviously aware that he had two renowned tacticians with him.

His car and one of the newly-arrived ones were to remain in front of the warehouse. The other patrol car would pull around the block and join Sergeant Kerr in the alley. At Scott's signal, they would flood the building with light.

And not until much later did Bennington remember to laugh at the way they had all followed the elephantine Whelton's example and gone on tiptoe down the walk between the two concrete-walled warehouses, into the alley behind.

* * * * *

The broken window was in a small door, part of the large door which let trucks in and out.

"Nice eye," Scott said to Whelton.

Bennington agreed.

The break in the window was just big enough to allow a hand through the door, a small hand through the pane to the lock on the inside of the door.

Scott stretched out his arm to try to slide his big, freckled hand through the break in the window, but abruptly Thornberry stepped forward, catching the chief's hand in mid-gesture.

"One moment, Chief Scott!"

The chief was startled. "What's up?"

"This isn't your job, it's mine. If that poor boy is in there, he needs a doctor, not a bullet."

"Whatthehell—" Scott sputtered, the phrase emerging as a single word.

"Thornberry's right, Chief Scott, though he's right for the wrong reason. Clarens is our job."

Following the tiger had been a simple act of necessity in two ways. To rid the tiger of the pain it could not remove from itself and to rid society of the menace the beast had been and would continue to be until it was destroyed.

With his words to Scott, with that last thought, Bennington shook the lethargy, the stillness of deep thought that had contained and enveloped him since the report of this breaking and entering.

Now, as in that dash to the mess hall, he was ready for the fast sprint, the decisive action.

Before Scott could answer and possibly object, Thornberry had taken the flashlight from the chief's hand, was fumbling through the open pane for the lock inside.

"Give me a flashlight, too," Bennington said.

Patrolman Whelton responded.

At the same time, Mosby reversed the grip on the pistol in his right hand and offered the ivory butt to Bennington.

"What do you think I am, a psychologist?"

Bennington had kept his voice to a whisper, but he had made that whisper a snarl. He further emphasized that snap in his tone by pulling out his own pistol, throwing the beam of the flashlight on his hand, making both the sight and sound of the safety going off clear to the eyes and ears of those around him.

Then he followed Thornberry into the black cave of the warehouse.

* * * * *

Before them stretched a long aisle formed by big boxes piled fifteen feet high. Side aisles branched at ten-foot intervals.

They moved slowly, used their lights carefully, in quick flickers on and off. Each branching from the main corridor had to be approached cautiously. Each, when checked by a rapid finger of light, showed only the sides of boxes marked by stenciled words and the blank walls of the warehouse.

A flash of light, a few steps forward, another flash, a few more steps ... until they were halfway down the warehouse.

Bennington saw it first and halted Thornberry with a touch on the arm: the last row of boxes on the left was outlined by a faint glow of light.

Together they walked rapidly, quietly, toward the glow. When they reached the end of the aisle, Bennington tried to take the lead. But Thornberry deliberately shoved himself ahead of the general and turned the corner first.

The space from the last row of boxes to the front doors of the warehouse was big enough for a truck and trailer to maneuver in. The feeble glow of light came from an electric lantern on a small desk. Beside the desk, leaning his chair against the warehouse wall, a palefaced young man sat looking down at his hands. His long fingers played with a knife.

The shadow of the desk spread across the floor and in that shadow bulked a large, unmoving blackness. Bennington flicked the beam of his light on and off quickly. One glimpse was enough. The unmoving blackness was a middle-aged man in work clothes and boots, lying on his back, with the slash across the throat standing out clearly.


Thornberry spoke softly, moved slowly, easily toward the young man.

At the sound of his name, Clarens looked up, his face calm and composed, his posture expressing complete disinterest in the fact that someone was approaching him.

"Walter: I am Dr. Thornberry. I am a friend of yours. I am here to help you. You need help. I am here to help you."

As Thornberry spoke, he continued to move forward slowly.

Bennington followed, two strides behind and one to the left of the psychologist. He kept his point of aim fixed on Walter's face.

"I am your friend. I am here to help you."

"You are my friend?" Walter asked, and there was doubt in his tone.

"You can be sure of that, Walter. I want to help you. I am here to help you, Walter."

Thornberry, who had stopped when Clarens had spoken, now moved forward again.

"Put down the knife, Walter. You don't need the knife any more. Put the knife down and come for a little walk with me. Come out of this dark place with me. Out of the darkness into the world where you belong. Let us take a walk together, out of the darkness into the world where you belong."

Bennington felt his own tense watchfulness relaxing in the smooth flow of Thornberry's words. Before them, Clarens' disinterest had gradually become absorbed attention. His hands no longer played with the knife, but simply held it loosely.

In another minute, he'll put down the knife and come with us, Bennington decided. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Thornberry take a plastic squeeze-bottle from his pocket.

Without any gathering of facial or body muscle to signal his intention, Clarens launched himself from his chair. As he jumped, he shrilled hoarsely, "Not into the light again!"

Only Thornberry's height saved him; Clarens' leap could not quite reach the psych-expert's scrawny throat. But the doctor did stumble backwards, did fall on his back with Clarens on top of him.

The killer's right arm swung back. The edge of the knife blade danced brightly in the dim light.

Bennington took no chances with fancy shooting. He dropped his point of aim and his first shot smashed into Clarens' chest, driving the young man back onto his haunches. The general's second and third shots were also into the body.

Then before Bennington's inner eye two scenes flashed fleetingly, one of a darkened garage, the other of an almost-as-dark jungle trail. In both the figure was a weeping mother above a child's still form. Deliberately, with three carefully-aimed shots through Clarens' head, Bennington killed the wounded tiger again.

Out of ingrained habit, he reloaded his pistol before moving forward to help Thornberry to his feet.

But the psychologist was already standing, was turning toward Bennington, wild anger on his face, in his voice.

"What did you shoot him for? Why did you kill this poor, misguided boy?"

Bennington looked at his assistant warden and saw that the man was deadly serious. Then the general looked at Clarens sprawled grotesquely on his back, with his shattered head resting against the dead night watchman's feet, with his right hand still gripping the knife.

I know seven languages, Bennington thought, with maybe knowing some of them only well enough to swear in, but right now I don't know the words to answer this man.

* * * * *

Bennington looked at the face reflected in the mirror in Chief Scott's private bathroom. The face was gray and lined with fatigue, needed a shave and the bristle of the beard was more white than brown.

His throat was raw from too much smoking, from answering too many questions, and a long, long day was still ahead.

Judkins was in jail, and glad to be in a solitary cell because he was handwriting a full confession. The knowledge of what Clarens had done during his few hours of freedom had scared the hypno-tech into almost incoherent co-operation.

The chief of Harrisburg's police was showing less signs of wear than anyone else. Scott was exulting in his position as supervisor of the city search for Giles, glorying in his position as relayer of the details of the state search for the errant politician.

Bennington opened the door into Scott's office, meditating gratefully on one blessing, that the six governors who had agreed on his appointment had also finally agreed to sleep.

Of course they had all assured him of complete concurrence with his suggested reforms for Duncannon Prison ... but what else could they have done?

Mosby was just outside the bathroom door, standing big enough to insure a half-circle of privacy between the general and the reporters.

"Had a call from Washington, Jim. That Rooney tax mess is getting top priority."


"The AG called, too."

Bennington found himself companioning Mosby's faint smile. "You had a cigarette in your ashtray?"

"I did, and he's got six good precedents to back us up, Jim. But the next time he wants us to call him first: my men aren't the only ones who need practical training."

Bennington did not hold back his laugh and he stretched out his hand. "Thanks, Mossback."

"Hell, Jim, I owe you the thanks. That was the best training problem my men ever had, taught 'em more in one night that they can ever learn until the real stuff starts whistling around."

Bennington glanced over Mosby's shoulder at the place he was heading for: the hot seat, Chief Scott's desk chair, bright under the TV spotlights, the center of every camera focus.

"You've got work to do, I know, so where's that Thornberry?" Mosby growled. "He should be with you."

"Upstairs, asleep. He said that he was only the assistant warden, then asked Chief Scott for an empty cell and left me."


"It's very simple: he's still not convinced that I had to shoot Clarens."

Mosby grunted deep disgust, looked over his shoulder toward the hot seat, looked again at Bennington. "You should have shaved.

"No, wait a minute, I guess not. Just go the way you are and give 'em hell."

Bennington rubbed his chin and the bristle of his late-night, early-morning beard crackled crisply.

The problem he had anticipated was now here, as he had known it would be. And the answer was nowhere, which equally had been a matter of foreknowledge.

* * * * *

"What will I say, General Mosby?" Bennington murmured. "Cue me in. You were always the best public relations officer either of us ever had."

"Jim, from anyone else—" Mosby started, stopped, grinned. "The trouble is, you're right.

"But this time we don't need any style, this time all we need is the truth.

"Tell them why the prison wasn't running right, how the riot happened and why you are where you are tonight, and what the prisons need to make them run better...."

Mosby stopped again, and this time was very slow in re-starting.

"When you get there, I don't know, Jim. What are you going to tell them?"

I wish I could be sure, Mossback.

I know I can make that hot seat hotter by stating no one else knows either, because we've never decided what a prison is for ... society's protection, a place to put people like Clarens, where they won't affect the lives of normal folk? A deterrent, a threat, a place to point to as a warning not to break the law? Or, as Thornberry would have it, the first step to returning people to normal lives as functioning members of society again?

Dare I say that the only thing certain about prisons is that so far they haven't worked ... that stone walls, iron bars, conditioning and drugs that take the reason prisoner, none of these have kept men in ... that they would always try to escape as long as there was hope, hope of something better on the outside.

* * * * *

As Mosby stepped aside, Bennington considered the reverse of that last thought.

Was there an answer here, to ask his fellow-countrymen to face the immediately, perhaps the forever, impossible, that the only way to keep a man from hoping and trying to get out, was to build a society where they never got in?

Then Bennington remembered Clarens.

No, let's face facts, that till man is superman, there will always be people like Clarens, people who will never be redeemed. People, who no matter how carefully caged or watched, will ever be a potential threat, if only to their keepers. By what weird accident they came to life, well, list that among other facts as yet unknown, and consider only the end result, that there were people whose only pleasure lay in perpetual destruction.

Automatically, such people themselves must be destroyed.

He was only vaguely aware of the flash-bulbs popping as he walked to the chair behind Chief Scott's desk.

That could be an answer, a new addition to the Decalogue, a new Commandment specific to the judge giving sentence to a man like Clarens, an injunction not to jail but to destroy. Simply phrased for the judge, thou shalt not commit!

He seated himself and blinked a couple of times, adjusting to the glare.

But, beginning with Thornberry, there would be many people who wouldn't agree, who would never accept such an amendment to the Sacred Ten, people who never seemed to see that phrase in their newspapers every time a child was assaulted, "Police are questioning all known sex offenders."

Bennington looked thoughtfully around at the men ready to question him.

He, too, was ready, ready to tell them....

... Some people are a damn sight better off dead.

* * * * *


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse