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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    All Pete remembers is:

          Someone in his room...
          A noise he doesn't recognize...
          Shadows melding 'bove his bed...
          Then, there's a bag on his head,
          or, something, and he blacks out...
          Waking up on State Route 1-2-3-
          at a Bickel Bus stop
          in daylight, a knapsack
          for a pillow, well packed
          with his things, and him dressed.

    How?  And the note, addressed
    to him in Clark's hand,
    which he recognizes
    from prize-essays posted
    on the school corkboard?
    He tears the envelope
    open.  Hundred dollar bills,
    three of them, spill from it.
    Life is full of surprises.
    Hoping it gets better
    (it can't get any worse)
    he reads THE LETTER:

          Pete, Your Pa's been arrested
          for an old murder.
          I think you know whose, and why,
          and, in the Law's callous eye,
          you are an accessory.
          I tried to stop that G-man
          from storming your Pa's loft,
          but, try to understand,
          he was in the right.
          Still, I'd have no hand
          in ruining your life.
          I couldn't do that and
          live my own peaceably.
          So, I've made an... arrangement
          (to pick my words carefully).
          You'll soon see the Prof. (Dudley
          Batson a.k.a. Marvel),
          whom I'm sure you'll recall
          from when my Pa died.
          He'll drive up in his Ford
          and get you out of Kansas
          as fast as a truck can.
          That's very fast, I'm told.
          Don't shun your Pa's memory.
          John Ross was a good man once,
          and now you've got the chance
          to do some good in the world,
          to redeem your family name.
          When it's safe, I'll send word
          and you can visit your Ma's grave
          and your Pa in prison.
          It had to be like this, Pete.
          I hope I am forgiven.

    It got worse.  Pete shakes the dust
    off his trousers, rubs out his eyes
    and stands.  His eyes are very dry.
    He can't cry; he is a free man
    at long last.  Under the bus stop,
    he waits for the 'Marvel Express,'
    shuffling in the roadside dirt,
    shifting his weight from boot to boot,
    humming tunelessly.  Freedom hurts.

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