Customs Office

April 5, 2011
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“File it away Jessie.”

Young Jessie’s fingers moved lithely over her typewriter, long brunette hair tied back to keep her bangs out of her eyes. Five old men sat in the corner watching as she jotted down the notes given to her by the Master-at-Arms. Jessie, knowing full well that their stares weren’t of a purely academic interest, set her mouth thinly and stared intently at the paper she was currently working on. At the Master’s command, she swiftly pulled the finished note from the tray and laid it down amongst the other miscellaneous papers.

“Will that be all, sir?” Jessie’s eyeglasses glinted in the pale fluorescent glow as she turned to face the Master-at-Arms. Her voice was measured and methodical, any hint of desire carefully hidden.

“Wait there just five minutes will you, we’ve got one more case to discuss.”
From the corner a voice called out “So eager to leave us, Jess?” Polite chuckles came from the old men as Jessie pursed her lips tighter and loaded another paper into the tray, waiting for the meeting to continue.
The MAA took out a dossier from beneath his desk and unwound the binding with a deft motion.

“We have one Martin Briscoe, 17-D, Male. Charged with assaulting a person of higher rank. Victim was one Samuel Constance, 14-B, Male. The two boys met on the street, and Martin quickly stepped aside and bowed in accordance to customary law section 3.003.5. Samuel proceeded to berate and attack Martin, claiming that his attitude was not appropriate nor in accordance to customary law. Here Samuel claims Martin struck him once in the stomach and chest then proceeded to continue on his way. Samuel made his claim to the customs official Sgt. Romsfeld 37-B at 2105 claiming the attack took place at 1910 the same day. This would also place Martin in violation of curfew. He was apprehended at his place of residence at 1900 hours yesterday evening and is currently being held in the utility prison with other customary offenders”

The Master set the envelope down with curt finality and looked across the office at the old men of his cabinet, each one charged with keeping the peace. Riley, who sat in the far back, rolled one gnarled finger across his lips in a contemptuous gesture.

“Let’s just hang the f___er and be done with it.” He spat. This sentiment was boisterously echoed from those directly next to him. Donovan Williams, also called William the Aged when he was not in attendance, sat back in his chair and fixed Riley with a withering gaze.

“Are you volunteering your services in building the gallows then? Already we have five hangings to conduct; each one proceeded by severe public floggings. The streets will surely run red tomorrow, and yet you insist we hang every petty vandal and scraggy youth brought before us. It would be easier, and more beneficial all around, to dispense a lighter punishment on this Martin, and let the system run its course. Samuel’s testimony sounds spotty at best. In fact, and I say this carefully, it sounds like Samuel deserved a good thump.”

“Watch yourself Don, you don’t want to go saying things you don’t mean.” Warned Riley, “Fact is, the kid outranks him. And he’s three years younger, h*ll if he had been a girl, we’d be torturing Martin to death tomorrow, slow cuttin’ him till no one could stand it anymore. So don’t feed me this line of softer rehabilitation cr*p, we have to set a solid standard or these low level b****rds will run all over us.”

Donovan looked over the top of his glasses at Riley, measuring him as sculptor measures granite.

“This isn’t about standards, sir. And it certainly isn’t about rehabilitation. It’s about economics. No matter how amusing you find public executions to be, there simply aren’t the resources to hang each vagabond that you believe a threat to customary order. The system is in place and will remain in place, despite rebellious young citizens or,” here he paused a beat and leveled his gaze with Riley’s, “poor manners.”

From her typewriter Jessie coughed loudly, hiding the snicker that nearly escaped from her lips. Five pairs of eyes snapped to look at her. Donavon, whose eyes remained fixed on Riley, curled his wrinkled lips into a smile. The Master-at-Arms dropped his face into his hands in an exasperated gesture, rubbing his fingers back and forth over his eyes.

“Fine, fine. Take this down Jessie. Martin Briscoe 17-D male, convicted of assaulting a person of higher rank. Felony customary offence rank 3. Scheduled for public scourging at 0700 tomorrow, January 1. 10 lashes. File will be considered closed.” He rebound the dossier with the same quick twitch of the fingers and placed it back underneath his desk. He stood, and the rest of the room stood with him.

“You are dismissed.”

Jessie took the tie from her hair as she bent low over her typewriter, carefully disassembling and placing each piece lovingly into its spot in her case. She did not hear Donovan as he shuffled over and placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Do you need a ride, Jessie?”

“Oh, um, no, actually. I am using my mother’s car.” She smiled, flustered. She liked the old man, with his soft sense of humor and his quiet demeanor. She brushed the hair from her eyes and looked at him, hunched over his cane with a distant expression on his face.

“Do you ever wonder, Jessie, as you jot down the fate of so many on your machine, whether it’s right, what we do?” He spoke softly, so that only she could hear. “So many killed, so many beaten, because it is customary. Because of a letter attached to their name. I feel so old Jessie, so very old indeed.” She didn’t answer, but instead bent down and kissed him on the cheek. She felt the warmth and kindness of his smile from the wrinkled cheek against her lips. She turned to walk out to her car.

“Jessie!” he called. She turned to see him beaming at her, the corners of his eyes glistening.

“Happy New Year.”





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