Someone must be telling lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine morning.
The Wolf is a solitary creature. He lives in the hills far beyond the limits of the civilized townsfolk. The Ochocos provide the remote place of solitude the Wolf desires, removed from the urgencies of society. He lives separately, not because he has an aversion to humankind. Although he detests their petty bourgeoise ways, their attachment to creature comforts, and accumulation of possessions, he harbors no hatred for them or their lives. The Wolf lives as he does because that is how he was created, an instinctual brute unable to trust in human conventions.
Stifling heat carried by the mid-August afternoon settled inside the courtroom, undaunted by the fans of those congregants present attempting to defy the devilish stickiness engulfing them.
The courtroom is a simple affair, and the walls are painted white to represent faith in the law and the purity of justice. The arrangement in the courtroom is a judge’s bench in the front with a United States flag of 36 stars on the judge’s left side– the town has not yet purchased a new flag, and the Oregon State flag on the judge’s right was adopted in 1859. The only other decoration in the courtroom is a painting by Florence, the schoolmistress, of Astraia, the Greek Goddess of Justice who once dwelt among men. Astraia no longer lives on Earth but with the Gods. Something few in this small town in the rough country of Oregon know. Still, they feel honored to have such a beautiful piece of art in their possession.A heavy ring is anchored securely to the oaken floors to secure dangerous criminals during a trial; two benches are placed in front of a barrier to separate the audience from the courtroom proceedings.
They bring the Wolf in through the big double doors at the rear of the courtroom, the men armed with rifles and shotguns, the Wolf bound in heavy chains. The Wolf struggles to stand upright and walk under the weight of the chains and wears a muzzle because the men with their guns are afraid of his immense size, and of what words of torture and abuse they might hear if he speaks. With unkind insistence, they bring him to a spot before the judge’s bench and chain him to a large ring attached to the floor. The chain is of such a length that the Wolf cannot stand to full height and stoops in an uncomfortable posture. Still, he offers no sound of complaint. The men take seats on a bench between the Wolf and the barrier that separates the court from the audience.
Judge Foreman enters through a door shrouded by black drapery, sits behind his judge’s bench, bangs his gavel, sips from a glass of water, clears his throat, and bellows, “Who brings this unfortunate creature before me?”
One man wearing an ornate badge on his left breast stands, hands his shotgun to the man seated beside him, and says, “I do, Sheriff Jones of Crook County of the State of Oregon.”
Foreman is an unfortunate man. Consumption has taken his entire family from him over the past six months; his wife, two daughters, and a six-year-old namesake of a son. Before, he was jovial and entertained jocular banter in his courtroom. Now he is humorless and hasty in his decisions. He finds that a rush to justice allows him to return to his office and his comforting bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. Where before he was fair to the Wolves brought in before him by overzealous authorities, now he does not pity these wretches.
Foreman orders Jones, “I still have decorum in my courtroom. Your men will sit with the audience, and all firearms will be checked in with the Bailiff, save your own. Remove the muzzle from this prisoner and loosen the restraints so he can stand at his full height if he pleases.”
Reluctantly the Sheriff’s men give their weapons to the Bailiff, and even more grudgingly, Jones removes the muzzle and loosens the chains. Then the Wolf stands at his full height. An imposing hulk, the Wolf, wears simple handmade clothes of the type that trappers of a bygone era would wear. His beard and hair are long and unkempt, showing streaks of gray that begin to betray his age.
After a short pause reinforcing Foreman’s authority and power over the proceedings, he speaks. “And what has this Wolf done that brings him before my court?” Foreman’s head throbs; he is spiteful that the Sheriff has interrupted his afternoon nap and displays his annoyance by taking another sip from his glass of water. Feeling the need for a snort of some of that headache powder the Chinamen sell, he carefully sets his glass down and mops his damp forehead with a white handkerchief.
The Sheriff, an ambitious man, almost as tall as the Wolf but with a stouter physique, seeks to dominate all matters in the town and has eyes on a State title as well as amassing a fortune in possessions. Jones yearns for the ownership of unclaimed land rumored to have a streak of gold below the surface, one way or another. If it means a few Wolves became extinct in the process, all the better. The Wolves must become extinct if he is to rule over the townsfolk. Law and Order is his byword. He is the Law, and his Order holds sway. His vows to protect the townsfolk from the undesirables, drunkards, and sexual deviants.
No one accuses him of being immoral. His morals are what benefit Jones and his family. Negros pay him for the privilege of working in town and leaving before sundown. The Chinamen pay him to protect them from the vigilantes he hires, they pay him to allow them their opium dens, and he collects fines from the white men he finds consorting with the Chinamen, or the Indians, or the Negros.
‘Judge or no Judge, my will be done,’ thinks Jones. He has a speech prepared and presents it to the judge, “This Wolf has lived outside the boundaries of civilized law. He neither parlays with others nor seeks communion with our Lord on Sundays. When townsfolk approach, he retreats in the opposite direction. Leaving me to believe that he has committed innumerable crimes that have yet to be uncovered.”
The audience is silent throughout the proceedings. Their only sound is the constant fluttering of their fans and the occasional grunt when one in the audience wipes sweat from their face with a handkerchief. The audience does not realize that they are playing the part of the chorus in a Greek Tragedy over the Wolf’s fate. A silent chorus, for they are present. Still, they have no occasion to participate in the proceedings except for the action of their fans bringing the biblical winds of judgment into the courtroom, weighing the worth of the wicked and the virtuous alike.
“And how did this Wolf come into your hands?” asked Foreman.
“We tracked him down to his burrow in the Ochocos,” replied Jones, “ When he saw the ten of us, he put up no fight.”
“Bailiff,” roars Foreman, slamming his gavel, “remove those uncivilized chains from the Wolf.” Then he announces to the courtroom in his commanding voice, “Well, have you anything to say?” ‘Jesus H. Christ,’ he thinks, ‘Why has Jones brought this unlucky devil who is innocent of any crime before me?’
The Wolf stands proud and erect, watching Foreman. However, he remains silent.
After a few moments, Forman asks the audience, “Who speaks for this Wolf?”
The Prineville Postmaster steps forward, “I will. I had the opportunity to deliver a parcel to the Wolf last spring. I rode unarmed and alone to his simple abode and presented him with a package from Washington, our capital. Inside his single-room cabin, I found a simple table with one chair. It is a humble place fit for one who lives apart from society. The only weapon I saw was a rusty infantry rifle that looked to have not been used in years. Although he smelt bad, he was polite and offered me a fine repast of roast pheasant. He spoke simply and honestly while eating. It is unfair to treat the Wolf this way. Jones is a vile land-grubbing pirate. Jones is the real criminal here.”
Melvin Miller, forced on the townsfolk by a distant government as the postmaster, a political appointee of President Grant, arrived in Oregon in 1873. A graduate of some fancy university in Connecticut, none of the townsfolk talk politics or ethics with Miller. They consider his ideas too far-fetched for the real world of Oregon Territory. He is unmarried, dismounting from the stage accompanied by Florence Germain. Rumors abound regarding their relationship. Many consider her too free, a libertine. Florence smokes a pipe. However, many womenfolk admire and are jealous of the freedom she exhibits, parading around the town with her pants and pipe. Both attend church every Sunday, sit next to each other in the third pew and sing hymns with verve and passion. Miller and Germain have lived among the townsfolk for fifteen years. However, in the eyes of the townsfolk, they remain outsiders. The locals bear their presence without rancor.
“Has he no employment or income?” asks Foreman.
“What is the need of money when your needs are met by the bountiful blessings of our Lord?” answers Miller. Miller studied Theology. Instead of seeking employment in the work of the Church, he finds the Postal Department more fulfilling, both financially and honorably. One day, after Foreman retires, he thinks he might be the one rendering justice in this town.
“Sheriff?” asks Foreman. Foreman bangs his gavel upon hearing nothing further from Jones, “Sheriff, out of my courtroom now. Stop wasting my time with your penny-ante chicanery. I am fining you one hundred dollars court costs.”
Silence envelopes the courtroom. The townsfolk are unused to justice bickering with the law, for the law and justice work hand in hand. The law protects the people, and justice bolsters the law. Jones is a hard man, glaring back at Foreman, unaccustomed as he is to being denied, his left eye begins twitching in anger. No one dares to cross Jones in this town. The results given to the offending party are deadly on the rare occasion that anyone has stood up to Jones. There are several unmarked shallow graves on the prairie outside of the town that can attest to this.
For the moment Jones accedes to Foreman’s authority. He has yet to achieve the confidence to defy the Foreman openly. He turns and exits alone through the rear double doors of the courtroom, fingering the pistol in his holster, his footsteps echoing against the walls of the astonished hall.
Foreman bangs his gavel three times, “The prisoner is acquitted and is free to leave. My apologies.” He stands up and walks to the Judge’s entry thinking to himself, ‘That bastard Jones is gonna be the death of someone someday. I hope it isn’t me.’
Those in the audience look on with astonishment. The townsfolk have a similar opinion of the Sheriff as the Judge does but lack the courage and self-assurance that Foreman displays to stand up to Jones. The Wolf turns towards the double doors and silently leaves the courtroom. He said nothing during the trial and talks to no one on the way out, but he nods in appreciation to Miller. The audience watches in admiration and wonders if anyone else dares do what Miller and the Wolf have done, to beat Jones at his own game of legal poppycock.
The doors closed behind the Wolf; moments later, two pistol shots ring out. Miller whispers to Florence, “ Did the Wolf, Jones, or Foreman die this day, and am I, the one who speaks for the downtrodden, next to die?”