Two shots ring out. The paymaster is killed in a small town in New England, a coastal town with a shipyard. The paymaster drops at once, and doesn't move. His guard stumbles away, but his assailants are right behind him. One fires again, almost pointblank, into the back of his head. Some of the blood spatters on the clothes of the shooter.
We see him washing later. Outdoors, in the cold, from a pipe running in a field. He rubs the places where the blood and spattered flesh touched his own face and hands.
Two men are charged with the crime: One a poor man, a Pakistani who works in his cousin's store at the end of the block in a shipyard workers' neighborhood, is cuffed in front of his family and taken away by police. His wife is hysterical, seeking to cling to her husband as two uniformed officers drag him away. Many others surround the house, the wife herself, hemming her in, removing her hands from her husband's arm. Others, higher-ups, wait in the squad car.
The police make no second arrest, though they press the Pakistani man for the name of his accomplice. This "second man," whoever he is, succeeds in evading the police.
Despite his protestations of innocence, the Pakistani man is tried, convicted on the eye witness testimony of those who claimed to have observed the crime from the second story windows of the tall workplace. He is sentenced to life in prison, the strongest punishment permitted. A popular movement seeks to change the state's law in order that he can be executed.
His wife, of course, must leave the city. She lives, employed as a domestic servant in the home of a well-off countryman in a small city in a neighboring state, where a small community of people from her country shelter her and her children from the curiosity and gossip of the greater world.
And what of the other?....
Ten years pass, maybe more.
A woman, veiled, moves back into the town where the infamous murders took place. She is not the only person in her neighborhood who wears the hijab. Her son has grown taller, and will soon be a man. She hopes to send him back to the country of her birth, where the cousin of her new employer owns a flourishing import business.
The woman, Meira, finds a job as a home health aide in the house of an elderly couple who do not know her or her story. She is needed because the old man is ill and his mind wanders.
One day Meira, laying the hijab aside, slips away while the couple are resting and goes to the home of the prosecutor for the shipyard payroll robbing and killings for which her husband was sent to jail. He is an older man, on the verge of retirement, though he toys with the idea of running for city councilor.
She pretends to be the messenger from his office bringing case files and recorded interviews of witnesses so that he can spend the day in the comfort of his home office, preparing for a case expected to come to trial. The prosecutor's wife is ill; her memory sometimes falters and she has been found wandering the streets, having forgotten what her errand consisted of. Her husband prefers to stay at home whenever possible to keep an eye on her.
Leo Martin, the prosecutor with an eye to public approval, takes the briefcase from the woman he believes to be the messenger and turns his back as he looks inside it for the papers he seeks.
It is then that Meira produces the revolver.
She hands him a roll of police tape and threatening him in a low, growling, hidden voice commands him to tie his own hands together. Then she forces him to sit in the desk chair of his home office and chloroforms him there.
A voice cries out from another room, the bedroom of the prosecutor's wife. Meira discovers that the bedroom is locked from the outside.
She unlocks it, enters the room, and after soothing the woman by telling her that she has been sent by her husband, leans to whisper her true identity in the woman's ear and shoots her in the temple. One bullet, execution style.
The prosecutor, though still unconscious, is beginning to moan, when Meira returns to him. Wearing surgical gloves, she cuts the tape from his hands cleanly, leaving no sign. She then puts the gun in Martin's right hand, making sure of the fresh print, then hides the weapon in a bottom drawer of his desk, where she is sure it will be found.
She straightens, takes up the briefcase she brought, and leaves the other evidence behind. A recent piece of propaganda from the Society for Euthanasia.
Moving quickly and carefully, she departs Martin's house from the back door, walking quickly through the yard to the undeveloped land that leads to the salt marsh. From the marsh land she emerges two blocks away on a seldom used path. A boy walking his dog fifty yards away has his back to her.
On the way home Meira calls the police from a public phone, pretending to be a concerned passerby. She is certain, she tells the dispatcher, that she heard a gunshot. Then she makes an excuse and hangs up the phone.
An hour later she watches from her room in the old couple's house as the police go in and out of the prosecutor's house, searching for evidence. Clearly they have found the gun, they could not have missed it, and soon they will find the prosecutor's fingerprint on it. She sees the prosecutor, the man who sent her husband to prison for a crime he did not commit, emerge in police custody.
All this, however, is simply a parable of vengeance. Who would ever want to do such a thing?
Robert Knox is a Boston Globe correspondent, a poet, fiction writer, and the author of a novel based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Suosso's Lane. As a contributing editor for the online poetry journal, Verse-Virtual, his poems appear regularly on that site. They have also appeared in other journals such as Every Day Poet, Off The Coast, The Blue Nib, and Yellow Chair Review. His poetry chapbook Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty, published in May 2017, has been nominated for a Massachusetts Best Book award. The chapbook Cocktails in the Wild followed in 2018. Robert recommends Jewish Voice for Peace.