Proof

          Joe Smith squinted and strained trying to read the black, metal wall clock on the other side of the Middleville Factory assembly line. His dull grey eyes could barely make out that it was 2:25. In just five minutes, the factory buzzer would signal the start of the fifteen minute afternoon rest period. Joe fidgeted in his chair. As always, he was not looking forward to the break.

          A short, thin man of twenty-three, Joe was physically unattractive. He had high cheek bones, poorly colored pink skin dotted with acne, thin lips, a thin pointed nose, and short, coarse, straight brown hair. Worse than Joe’s looks were his actions, or more correctly his lack of actions. He went nowhere, talked with no one, and did nothing. After his father had retired from the factory and his parents had moved to Arkansas, Joe had no family or friends in the Middleville area. Working at the factory and watching television made up the entirety of Joe’s life. Television was his only enjoyment, and his favorite shows were old reruns of My Favorite Martian, Mr. Ed, Hogan’s Heroes, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

          When he first went to work at the factory, Joe had tried to socialize with co-workers. But all he knew about were his television shows, so that was what he talked about. His fellow workers just laughed at him when he talked about those program, and eventually, Joe stopped trying to make friends with them.

          People had always laughed at Joe. As a child, Joe had been small, ugly, dull, unathletic, and a constant target of ridicule from other children. He had not understood the teasing and, of course, had hated it. And he had hated the kids who teased him. Since the teasing had been pervasive, he had soon generalized his hatred to all kids. He had become extremely self-conscious and had withdrawn as much as possible from social contact.

          With no other interests, Joe had spent large chunks of his time in front of his family’s television set. When he was not watching television, he was in his room daydreaming about the time when he would be big and strong and would beat the hell out of the punks who had made fun of him. That time remained a fantasy until it faded into the dullness of his early adulthood, when it became apparent, even to Joe, that he would never be big and strong.

          At age sixteen, Joe had left high school to escape the ridicule of his childhood and went to work at the Middleville Factory only to discover the ridicule of his adulthood. He soon realized that ridicule was not easy to escape.

          At precisely 2:30 in the afternoon, the steady rumble of the assembly line and the sporadic clattering of the various component machines were lost in the deafening blast of the buzzer. Joe left his spot on the assembly line and followed his fellow workers into the cafeteria, where he bought a cup of coffee. Finding no empty tables available, Joe sat down at a table occupied by Bruce Miller and John Vicker. They were the closest to what might be called Joe’s friends. He hated both of them.

          Miller was in his early twenties but looked thirty-five. His head was balding, his flabby face was scarred and wrinkled, and his belly hung loosely over his belt. It was obvious from his appearance that he would consume almost anything that could be put into his mouth and chewed or drank. But unquestionably, beer was Miller favorite food.

          Vicker had handsome features, with the exception of an oversized nose. Other than the nose, his jet black hair was his most noticeable feature. He had a mustache to match and dark facial hair that made him appear as if he always needed a shave. Vicker also liked his beer, but it did not yet show on him as it did on Miller.

          When Vicker had moved to Middleville at the age of eight, he and Miller had become best friends. Over the years, they had played football together at Middleville High School, had been arrested together for juvenile pranks, and together had come to work at the Middleville Factory. Now they were hunting, fishing, and drinking buddies. Often they drove together to a nearby city to watch professional football games, and together, they had built Middleville’s largest pornography library. In general, they spent as much time together as they could.

          Neither man liked Joe. Rather, they viewed him in much the same way as they had viewed Blackie—an old, crippled cat that had lived in their neighborhood when they were teenagers. Blackie had suffered every “childhood prank”—if one could call all the cruelty the cat had suffered “childhood pranks”—the two boys could think of until Blackie had finally died at their hands. Joe Smith had replaced Blackie as their live toy, as something they could tease, taunt, and terrorize.

          “Damn good flick last night,” Vicker said as Joe sat down.

          “Yeah, I liked the part where the club owner got shot in the eye,” Miller answered with noticeable pleasure.

          “How about the time the oily lookin’ guy cut the sheriff’s throat?”

          “And the blood squirted out in spurts.”

          “Yeah, great close up. That was cool.”

          “Yeah, and the best part was when the big guy fell and cracked his head on the concrete, and his brains came flowin’ out. I wonder how they did that.” Miller’s face wrinkled in puzzlement.

          “I don’t know, but I bet it would give you a damn bad headache.” Both men roared at the humor, while Smith sipped his coffee in silence.

          “I don’t think twerp here got it,” Miller said, moving his head to indicate he meant Smith.

          “Didn’t ya get it?” Vicker asked mockingly.

          “Get what?” Joe asked, surprised to find himself suddenly involved in the conversation. Vicker and Miller laughed harder. When they had calmed down, they again ignored Joe and turned their attention back to the details of the movie they had shared the night before. Even though he loathed the two men, Joe wanted desperately to prove to them that he was not the idiot they thought he was. He wanted to somehow show them that he knew what they were talking and laughing about. But he could think of nothing to say. Almost instinctively, he blurted out, “I know you guys are talking about a movie.”

          Miller and Vicker took a quick look at Smith and then at one another. Consumed by the humor of the moment, they broke into a vicious laughter. Their cackling attracted the attention of workers at nearby tables. Forcing himself under control, Vicker said, “This guy is really smart.”

          “Quick witted,” Miller replied while still laughing.

          “I think he may have figured that out all by himself. At least, I didn’t help him.”

          “Well, I sure didn’t.”

          “Musta got it on his own.”

          “I tell ya, he’s got a quick mind.”

          “Almost as quick as a glacier.” Again, Miller and Vicker broke into laughter, and again, people at nearby tables stared at the three men.

          Hatred rushed through Joe’s body, but as always, because he didn’t know what to do, he remained silent. He did know to hate, and he hated Vicker and Miller. He also hated the other workers who were looking at him.

          Joe didn’t sit with Miller and Vicker by choice. No one else in the factory would let him sit with them. They considered him a nuisance–a dull, weird nuisance. Consequently, they had forced him into the jaws of those two hyenas.

          The factory buzzer shook the large, plain cafeteria, and somewhat relieved, Joe followed his co-workers out of the room and back to the assembly line. At least there, everyone left him alone.

          Sheets of rain poured from cloudy skies as Joe drove home from work that evening. He tried to put the unpleasantness of the afternoon break out of his mind by daydreaming about how some day he would show the workers at the factory just how smart he was. He tried desperately to think of ways he could do that, but nothing came to mind.

          After Mr. Ed and My Favorite Martian, the news came on, and Joe got up to fix his supper. On this night, like he did on almost every night, he made himself a hamburger, instant mashed potatoes, and peas from a can. He was busy eating when something on the news caught his attention. A handsome, smartly dressed, well-groomed news commentator was telling his audience about a kidnapping-bank robbery in Los Angeles. The chief of the Los Angeles police department called it “the most brilliantly planned and executed crime in Los Angeles history.” It was that phrase that caught Joe’s attention.

          Two men had broken into a bank president’s home early in the morning and had taken his wife and three daughters hostage. They had ordered the bank president to go to the bank and withdraw one million dollars. They had warned him that he would be watched at all times, and if he made any attempt to contact the police, everyone in his family would be killed. When the bank president had returned home, all members of the family had been bound and gagged. No one in the family could identify the two men, because each had worn a woman’s stocking over his head. Since the two men in the bank president’s home had never contacted anyone outside the home, police believed the bank president had not been under surveillance. Regardless, police said they had no clues as to the two men’s identities.

          Joe thought that if he could do something like that, something that brilliant, then Miller, Vicker, and everyone else at the factory would no longer laugh at him, and they would no longer call him stupid. After watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies and Hogan’s Heroes, Joe hurried to the corner drug store with an idea in mind. He looked through newspapers until he found one with an article about the Los Angeles bank robbery. He bought the paper and took it home, something he had never done before in his life. When he got home, Joe studied the article about the bank robbery. The quote by the police chief that “It was the most brilliantly planned and executed crime in the city’s history,” kept running through Joe’s mind. Before going to bed that night, Joe decided he would do it.

          Over the next three weeks Joe planned his crime. He found out the Middleville Bank president’s name was John Ford III and found our where Ford lived. Joe practiced driving the route between his apartment and Ford’s home. He planned the crime for a Friday morning, because that would give him three days to stay in his apartment and out of sight of the Middleville Police. On the Saturday before he planned the bold proof of his intellect, Joe bought the tools he would need—a gun, a rope, and a pair of women’s stockings. Buying women’s stocking embarrassed Joe, so he drove to a store a mile from his home, where the store clerk didn’t know him.

          As the target date approached, Joe started having second thoughts about his plan, and he probably would have called it off had it not been for the verbal lashing that he got from Miller and Vicker on Thursday. As he left the factory that evening, Joe was determined to prove he was smarter than any of his co-workers.

          As the sun rose over Middleville on Friday morning, the day seemed like any other in the town. A paperboy rode his bicycle through the early morning streets and tossed papers onto driveways, a deliveryman drove his van through his route and left packages on porches, children walked and rode buses to school and prepared for the day’s classes, and workers drove to the factory and prepared for another day on the assembly line. But that Friday was different from other days in Middleville. Joe Smith didn’t drive to the factory to work. Instead, Joe called his supervisor and told him that he was sick and wouldn’t be at work that day. Then he drove the route he had spent the past few weeks practicing.

          John Ford’s house stood at the end of a long street lined with stately oaks. The trees looked like soldiers standing guard over the quietness of the neighborhood. Sun spots danced lazily in the shadows on the pavement in front of Joe’s car. The only sounds Joe heard were the humming of his car’s engine and the calling of the blue jays. It appeared to Joe that this part of Middleville was still asleep.

          Ford lived in a two-story red brick house with white trim. Four large white columns stood on the front edge of a long front porch. A swing on the porch swayed gently in the morning breeze.

          To be less conspicuous, Joe parked his car in front of the house next to Ford’s home. Also to avoid drawing attention to himself, Joe chose not to walk across Ford’s front yard. Instead, he walked along the sidewalk to get to Ford’s driveway and then walked up the driveway to a walkway leading to the porch. As Joe stepped onto the porch, Joe reached into his pocket for the woman’s stocking that he had brought to hide his face. To his dismay, Joe found he had left the stocking in his car. He hurried back down the driveway and along the sidewalk to his car, where he retrieved the stocking from the back seat. After stuffing the stocking in his pocket, Joe walked back to the driveway and onto the front porch.

          Suddenly Joe was stricken with panic. Could he go through with his plan? He had to, but could he? Needing security, he reached for his gun. Then he realized the gun was in the trunk of his car, where he had put it so no one would see it while he drove from his apartment to Ford’s home. Joe went back drown the driveway and to his car, where he got the gun from the trunk.

          Not wanting to carry it exposed from his car to Ford’s front door, Joe shoved the gun inside his shirt, but because Joe was so thin, the gun’s bulk was very conspicuous in the front of his shirt. And as Joe walked along the sidewalk leading to Ford’s driveway, the gun’s weight forced his shirt loose from his trousers, and the gun fell to the ground. Fortunately, it landed on the soft grass by the sidewalk, so the gun neither broke nor discharged. Joe hurriedly picked up the gun, put his shirt tail back in his pants, tightened his belt, and put the gun back into his shirt.

          By the time Joe got to the porch the third time, he was sweating heavily and having trouble breathing. He took the woman’s stocking from his pocket and pulled it over his head. The stocking was much tighter than Joe had expected it to be. It had never occurred to Joe to put the stocking over his head while at his apartment to see how it would fit. Not only was the stocking tight, but the reinforced heel was across Joe’s face, making it difficult for him to see and breathe.

          Joe pulled at the stocking, trying to get the heel to the back of his head. In the process, he put a run in the stocking. This made it easier for him to breathe and see, but Joe worried it might expose his face. Now he wished he had not left the other stocking at home. Joe considered going back to his apartment to get the other stocking, but he worried that if he did, by the time he got back to Ford’s house, Ford would have already gone to the bank, thus spoiling Joe’s brilliant plan.

          Every major event has a starting point and a point of no return. For Joe’s “proof,” the starting point was when he left his apartment that morning, and the point of no return would be when he rang the door bell. If he walked away now, his plan would be his secret. But if he rang the door bell, there would be no turning back. The index finger of Joe’s left hand nervously reached forward and touched the button, paused momentarily, and then pushed.

          Bells chimed inside the house. Joe’s stomach tumbled. And the door opened, exposing a woman who appeared to be in her late sixties.  She could have been Joe’s grandmother. But she wasn’t, so Joe pushed the gun forward so she would see it, and trying to keep the shakiness out of his voice, he said, “Is Mr. Ford in?”

          “Oh my god! Oh my god! Don’t shoot mister, please.”

          “I won’t,” Joe assured her. “Is Mr. Ford in?”

          “Yes!”

          “I want to see him.”

          The woman led Joe into a large comfortable living room. It had white shag carpet, flowered print papered walls, and soft blue furniture. An old man was sitting on a solid blue velvet couch reading the morning newspaper.

          “John! John … this man … ” Her voice had enough emotion to cause the man to look up. As he saw the gun, Ford’s mouth dropped open, and his eyes jumped to attention.

          “Who are you?” he demanded, quickly getting to his feet. “What do you want?”

          “Money from your bank,” Joe said. He ordered John Ford and his wife to the basement, where there was a large family room with leather furniture, wood-paneled walls, rust-colored carpet, and no windows. There he had Ford tie his wife’s hands and feet. Then Joe explained that Ford was to go to the bank, take out $100,000, and bring the money back to the house. Joe didn’t ask for more, because he wasn’t sure the bank would have more money that.

          “Don’t try to call the police or to contact anyone,” Joe warned, “because you will be watched every minute. If I get word that something is wrong, I will kill your wife.” Joe had never considered killing anyone during his crime, so there were no bullets in the gun. Still, neither Ford nor his wife knew that.

          Ford left, and Joe was alone with Mrs. Ford in the house that was enormous compared to Joe’s basement apartment. He wandered through the house and was surprised by what he found. Each room was comfortably but conservatively furnished. Joe had expected things to be much fancier than they were. Still, there things that impressed Joe. For example, the fireplaces.  There were three–one in the living room, one in the master bedroom, and one in the family room in the basement, which by itself was nearly as large as Joe’s entire apartment. Made of large gray stones, the fireplaces were the dominate features in those three rooms and in the house. They gave it the dignity of a house owned by a bank president.

          About an hour after Ford had gone, Joe began to fret. He had estimated it would take the bank president about an hour to go to the bank, get the money, and return. Joe worried that Ford had called the police. Maybe he should leave before Ford or anyone else showed up. With each passing minute, Joe’s vision of impending danger grew.

          Joe pictured a regiment of police cars filling the quiet neighborhood, a police sergeant preparing to holler through a foghorn for Joe to surrender, hundreds of uniformed officers with rifles cocked and ready to shoot surrounding the house, and men wearing ugly masks and carrying teargas guns ready to fill the house with choking fumes.

          Joe took a watching position at a living room window, from which he could see the street in both directions. He saw no police vehicles. In fact, he saw no one at all, except an occasional passing car.

          Finally, Ford’s car rolled down the street and turned into the driveway. When Ford got out of the car, he was carrying a black briefcase. Once in the house, Ford opened it for Joe. Large stacks of money held together by thin paper strips filled the case. Joe felt faint. It all seemed unbelievable, like a dream. Things kept happening, things that were so unfamiliar.

          Joe took Ford to the basement family room, where Mrs. Ford sat on a couch, hands and feet still tied. After tying Ford, Joe opened the briefcase again to make sure he had not been dreaming. It was still unbelievable, but the money was real. Joe went upstairs, pulled the stocking off his head, and opened the front door to leave, but he quickly jumped back into the house and slammed the door. Parked directly in front of Ford’s house, sat a police car. Joe’s first instinct was to run for his car, but he knew he couldn’t make it to his car without being arrested or shot. He stood in the foyer with his back to the front door, as if trying to keep the police out. “This is it,” he said to himself, “I have been caught. I have no place to run and no place to hide.”

          Gathering courage, Joe peered through the sheer curtains that hung over the front door’s window. He expected to see an army of police officers storming the house, but instead, he saw one police cruiser with two officers sitting in the front seat. Obviously they were the first of the army of policemen who would arrive. Or maybe others were hiding in the yard or other places surrounding the house. Perhaps the two policemen were supposed to lull Joe into a false sense of security, causing him to think he could make a run for it, and when he did, dozens of policemen would jump out from their hiding places and open fire. If that was the police’s plan, Joe wasn’t going to fall for it. As Joe watched through the window, one of the officers got out of the police cruiser and stared at the Ford house. Joe considered running out of the house’s back door but didn’t, because he was certain many policemen were waiting for him in the backyard. The officer who had gotten out of the car began walking toward Joe’s car. For some reason, the officer walked past Joe’s car and examined a blue Jeep that was parked behind it. The officer began writing a parking violation ticket for the Jeep, which Joe suddenly realized was parked in front of a fire hydrant. The officer put the ticket under the Jeep’s driver side windshield wiper and walked back and got in the police cruiser. Joe wondered if the officer’s actions were part of the ploy to lure him into feeling safe, so he would come out of the house peacefully, and when he did, he would be seized or shot. If that was the plan, it didn’t work, because Joe remained cowered behind the door.

          Both policemen stared at the Ford house. Joe’s heart pounded fiercely and sweat poured from every part of his body. “I’ve had it now. I’ve had it now,” Joe said aloud. “I’ve had it now.” Every second seemed an eternity.

          Finally, the engine of the police cruiser started, and the car pulled away from the curb and eased down the street. Joe could hardly think. He was afraid to open the front door for fear the departing police patrol car had been another ploy, and a phalanx of police officers was waiting in ambush. Half an hour passed. Joe decided it was more dangerous to stay in the house than to leave. He checked the scene from the front window. When he saw no policemen, he went out of the house and closed the door behind him. Then he walked as quickly as possible down the driveway and across the sidewalk to his car.

          Still uncertain about whether he had gotten away with the crime, Joe drove to the countryside and spent several hours just driving around. He was afraid to go home, where he expected to find an army of policemen waiting for him.

          But when Joe arrived home, he found no police cars, no policemen, nothing but the dirty gray house that stood over his basement apartment. Joe spent the remainder of the afternoon debating with himself about what to do with the money. That evening, when darkness provided a protective cover, Joe drove back to the countryside, where he buried the briefcase full of money. He had not committed his brave and brilliant act so he could spend the money but to win respect and praise from his co-workers. Besides, Joe worried that if he spent the money, people might get suspicious, and he might be arrested.

          That evening, the story of Joe’s daring kidnap-bank robbery was the lead story in the Middleville Gazette, but Joe didn’t see it, because he was too frightened to go to the store and buy a copy. However, while watching Mr. Ed, Joe was eager for it to end so he could watch the TV news, something Joe rarely did. Joe’s daring robbery was the lead story on the local TV news program. As the news program began, the camera zoomed in on a man who looked to be in his early thirties and who had a broad smile that showed perfect teeth and a youngish woman who seemed to have trouble keeping from giggling. The man was dressed in an impeccable, sky-blue suit and colorful tie, and the woman was beautiful and was wearing a smart, red suit and orange and yellow neck scarf. They were seated behind an impressive looking desk with the station’s letters and number on its front. The pair cheerfully welcomed viewers to the news broadcast.

          “Good evening,” they said almost simultaneously, smiling broadly.  “Welcome to Channel Five News at 6:00.”

          The man changed his expression to one of shock and horror.  “Shocking news today in Middleville-there was a daring daylight kidnapping and bank robbery this morning in our town.”  He said details of the crime would be provided by a reporter and gave the reporter’s name.  Next the TV screen was filled by a serious looking male reporter who was standing in front of the Fords’ home.  He gave viewers a brief description of the crime and how it had been committed.  Then he said, “Earlier today, I spoke with George Jones, chief of the Middleville Police Department.”  The scene in front of Ford’s home vanished from the screen and was replaced by one with the Middleville Police station.  The same reporter was standing in front of the station talking with the police chief.  Joe remembered the chief’s face from posters on telephone poles and in store windows during the last election.

          “I would say it was the most brilliantly planned and executed crime in Middleville history,” the chief said.  “But we will catch ’em.  You can bet money on that.”

          The chief’s beady eyes, rough voice, and knowing smile scared Joe.  He kept his curtains closed and the lights on in his basement apartment turned low.  And he stayed in his apartment all weekend long, except to walk up the stairs leading to the house’s backyard every hour or so.  Each time, he fully expected to see an army of cops, a foghorn totting sergeant, riflemen, and teargas troops all waiting on the back lawn.  “Come on out while there is still time,” the sergeant would say through his foghorn.  “Give yourself up, or we are coming in.”  Each time Joe went to the backyard, he was ready to give himself up.  But the army of police officers never materialized.

          Monday came.  Still not sure whether or not he would be arrested, Joe drove nervously through the streets of Middleville to the factory.  He kept a constant lookout for the police.  Each street, each alley, and each bend in the road presented a danger.  He made it to the factory parking lot without incident.

          And it was in the Middleville Factory parking lot that Monday morning when Joe began to realize that he had gotten away with the crime.  Joe Smith had planned and executed “the most brilliant crime in Middleville’s history.”  He had done it and had not been caught.  It would mean new respect from Miller, Vicker, and his other co-workers.  Joe expected to receive that new respect the moment he walked into the factory.  To his surprise, no one was more friendly or more respectful than they had been on the previous Thursday, when he had last been at the factory.

          The day droned by with the rumbling of the assembly line, the chattering of machinery, and the occasional blasts of the factory buzzer.  And Joe’s lot in the world had not improved.  By day’s end, he realized the dilemma.  No one knew how smart he was.

          It was the one great thing he had done in his life, the one important thing in his existence, the thing that had proven he was more a man than any of his acquaintances were and that had proven he was smarter than they were.  But only Joe knew about it.  At first, Joe thought it might be enough that he knew.  It was his secret, his joke on them.  He knew something that they didn’t know, something that very important.  It made him that much smarter than them.  But as days passed and as the lack of respect and the ridicule continued, Joe was hurt by the realization that people who were unable to do what he had done were criticizing and belittling him.  How could they do that?  What right did they have?  Joe became angry at them.  He wanted them to know what he had done and to respect him for his brilliance and bravery.  He wanted to tell them, but couldn’t, because if he did, they might notify the police, and he would be arrested.

          The teasing and taunting continued and got worse, at least in his eyes it got worse, because it came from people who were inferior to him, people who had not planned and executed the most clever crime in Middleville’s history.  He hated them more than ever and with more justification than ever.

          At the end of his wits, Joe decided it was worth the risk to tell his co-workers about his clever crime, because at least then he would have their respect.

          One day while eating lunch in the factory cafeteria, Joe was under the normal verbal attack from Miller and Vicker.  Suddenly, he blurted out, “I’m smarter than both of you, and I can prove it.”

          “Yeah, yeah, and just how do you plan to do that Smith?” Vicker asked mockingly.  “Are you going to show us your third grade report card?”

          “Can’t be that,” Miller laughed, “because I’ve seen his third grade report card, and the highest grade on it was a ‘D’.”

          Both men laughed loudly, as Joe burned with humiliation and anger.  “I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you,” he stammered.  “I am the guy who robbed the bank.  You guys think you’re so smart, but you weren’t smart enough to do that.  Well, I am smart enough ’cause I did it.”

          The wrinkles on Miller’s forehead deepened, and Vicker’s eyes enlarged.  Both men inspected Joe.

          “You what?”  Miller asked.

          “I’m the guy who robbed the Middleville Bank.  I kidnapped the bank president’s wife and made Mr. Ford get $100,000 out of the bank and bring it to me.  I planned it, I did it, and I got away with it.”  Joe realized what he had just done, and his eyes twitched nervously.  Scared that Vicker and Miller would jump up, run to the nearest phone, and call the police, Joe readied himself to make his get-away.  But neither Miller nor Vicker ran to a phone.  They just sat there, their eyes agog and their mouths open in disbelieve.

          “Look twerp, I don’t know what you’re up to, but I wouldn’t be saying anything like that if I were you.  You’ll liable to be carted off to the funny farm,” Vicker said.

          “That’s where you belong, but if you shut up, they may not come and get you so soon,” Miller added.

          Joe realized that Miller and Vicker did not believe him.  Despite his fear, he had to convince them.

          “No.  No.  I did do it, you’ve got to believe me.  I did it.  Don’t you see how smart I am?”

          “I see how stupid you are.  You’re gonna get yourself in trouble.  You ain’t got the brains to pull off something like that.”

          “Yes I do.  I did it.  I did it.”

          “Sure, sure, twerp,” Vicker thought it might be better to humor Joe.

          “You’ve got to believe me.”  Joe said in desperation.

          The buzzer filled the cafeteria with noise and filled Joe’s heart with despair.  He followed the other workers back to the assembly line.

          Joe realized that if he could not convince Miller, Vicker, and the other workers at the factory of what he had done, they would not respect him.  The crime would have been done for naught.  So for two days, he tried to convince Miller and Vicker that he had kidnapped the bank president and his wife and had forced Ford to bring him the money.  They only laughed and made fun of him.  Then Joe tried to convince some of the other workers at the factory of what he had done.  They also dismissed the idea as impossible and laughed and ridiculed him.  No one would believe Joe.

          One evening as darkness fell on Middleville, depression smothered Joe’s spirit.  In Joe’s apartment, images from the television screen flickered across the walls, and canned laughter echoed from room to room, but Joe sat uninterested.  As The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end, strange-looking creatures danced across the television screen and sang, “Ya’ll come back now, hear.”  Joe switched the set off and sat in the near darkness for a long while.  But the darkness did not help, so he turned on a table lamp.  What could he do?  His plan had failed.  He had wanted them to respect him for his cleverness and bravery, but they did not even believe he had done the act.  He had to convince them.  He had to do something that would make them believe.  But what?

          It was nearly 11 o’clock that evening when Joe arrived at the police station with the briefcase that he had dug up.  He gave the case to a friendly looking officer sitting behind a desk.  After examining the case’s contents, the officer called a police sergeant and explained to him about Joe and the case full of money.  Joe wondered if the sergeant was the one who hollered through foghorns at criminals barricaded in houses.  He did not find out, but he was arrested and put in jail.

          At the trial four months later, Joe pleaded guilty, confessing to everything.  Because the robbery was Joe’s first offense and because Joe had turned himself in and confessed, the judge sentenced him to only two years in the state prison.

          Joe wasn’t particularly unhappy about being sent to the state prison.  He felt certain he would be treated with respect there.  After all, he was the man who had single-handedly planned and pulled off the most brilliant crime in Middleville’s history.   Being treated with respect by prisoners was better than being treated with disdain by workers at the Middleville Factory.  But Joe found no respect in prison.  The other prisoners treated Joe as a strange little nuisance of a man, who had robbed a bank and had gotten away with the crime, but had turned himself in and confessed.

          In Middleville, a Gazette reporter, doing a human interest story on the bank robbery, interviewed neighbors and acquaintances of Joe’s trying to find out why this quiet little man with no record would suddenly rob a bank, not spend the money, and ultimately turn himself in and confess.

At the factory, someone pointed the reporter to Miller and Vicker as Joe’s closest acquaintances.

          “We don’t know why he did it,” they told the reporter, “guess he is just stupid or something!”

 

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