Tuesday, April 25

Chapter 44

Juckett County Wonder

Excerpt from an article in the Juckett County Tribune, dated September 5th, 2005.
"Supreme court found in favor of Juckett County’s own judge Garrison Fielder yesterday, stating that, in certain cases, each precinct should have jurisprudence over the running and execution of judgement in county courts dependant on the judge’s knowledge of the case and finding of the verdict. While this is dubbed a ‘clinical trial’ by members of the Supreme Court, other counties have also petitioned for this ability in their districts, including Floyd, Iowa; Bourbon, Kansas; Dade, Missouri as well as Gosper and Brown counties in Nebraska."
- - - - - - -
"Look, it’s not going to fall over, right?" He said in his most amiable manner, nudging the building inspector next to him with his elbow. "It’s just a tad bit off. We can fix that so nobody can tell." The inspector scratched his head. "Hey, have I ever built a house that collapsed?" they both chuckled, and Bob placed his arm on the shoulder of the inspector. "You passed me on the Trillberg house, and that was way worse off than this one, and it’s in good shape. Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, when was the last time we even had an earthquake in Iowa?"

The inspector shook his head, but passed the building all the same. It was a routine between him and Bob, and he had a point about the Trillberg house: it was in terrible shape compared to this one. Besides, if he were to buck the system now, Bob could easily take him down as well – this had to be the last house he let slide. He mentioned it to Bob, who smiled and said something charming which both of them forgot immediately, but lightened the mood.

Robert Graven, Bob, was born in Rock Grove, Iowa in 1958. He left for college in Nora Springs, but moved from there to Nebraska State where he majored in construction technology and implementation, then moved back to Juckett County where he settled a short walk from his parent’s home in Rock Grove. In the early years of his career there wasn’t much work for him in Rock Grove, so he had to move out to all points different where he apprenticed at a construction company ("Roger & Son Construction") before applying for and getting his own contractor’s licence, and heading back home once more.

There was a boom in housing when Juckett county began another city outside the county seat when water and good soil was discovered in a barren patch of ground in Roy Dickman’s 200+ acre corn field. The city planners hired contractors from the local community before seeking more from the outlying cities. Bob was one of the first ones hired, and helped build the town hall and power plant as well as his share of homes in the new town of Ravens Field.

In 1984 there was a boost in population in both Dilmore and Ravens Field. It was while working on a home in Dilmore he had his first problems with the building inspectors. Somehow, within the last four years, they had completely changed the codes, and he (so he said) was not notified. They gave him a month to brush up on his codes and correct his mistakes. Bob read the new codes and "fixed" the problems by making them look solid when they were not. The inspectors passed the house, and Bob moved on to the next home in Ravens Field where they had jsut hired a new inspector who also took Bob to task about the house he was building. This guy Bob talked into passing the inspection even though there were a few minor errors.

Thankfully, for Bob, the houses never fell down or had any major problems; however, his workmanship went downhill from there. He cut corners on materials, and neglected safety issues, and all the while talked his way, or bribed his way through each and every inspection – once trading a "pass" for a new porch. Then it happened.
- - - - - - -

"Ravens Field, Juckett County – The newly constructed home of Daniel and Irene Driscol collapsed yesterday evening killing three after a strong wind tore through the valley. Irene Driscol, as well as their two children, Mae and Lona, were at home when it occurred. Neighbors heard a loud noise some described as ‘like a gunshot’ or ‘an explosion’ and raced out of their homes as the building folded inwards, crushing the three at home. Investigators were called to the scene from Rock Grove to determine the cause of the house’s sudden and catastrophic demise. On closer inspection, the cause of the collapse was determined to be sub-standard workmanship by Graven Construction’s Bob Graven."

- - - - - - -

"All rise," the Bailiff said as the court came to order, "the honorable judge Fileder presiding in the case of Juckett County verses Bob Graven." The judge entered in his robe, wearing a black ball-cap with the word "Dixie" emblazoned in blue letters across the front. The bailiff motioned to him that he was wearing his hat still.

"I know I still have my hat on, Charles," he told the bailiff, "I’m old, not senile. You will have to excuse me folks," he said addressing everyone in the courtroom, "I whacked my head this morning, and have an... ‘unsightly’ bandage on it. If you all don’t mind, I’ll just keep it on today. That alright with you?" He looked at the lawyers who nodded. Judge Fielder was in his seventies, but well-built and strong as a horse. He was actually in better shape than when he was in his forties, partly because of his heart-attack and 3 way bypass which put him in a strict exercise regimen in order to, not only recover, but prevent any more heart attacks. He adjusted his glasses and read, squinting, at the papers before him. "Now, what’s all this about Bob?" He said.

"Your honor, if it please the court," Bob’s attorney said, rising, "I would like to..."
"Did I ask you anything?" Judge Fielder said, shooting an icy stare at the attorney. "I asked Mr. Graven what this was all about, and I’d like him to answer me. When I want to hear from his attorney, I will ask his attorney, is that clear to everyone in the court?" The court reporter nodded, and the rest of the people in the room followed suit. "Now, Mr. Graven, why don’t you stand where you are, and swear on that Bible Charlie’s bringing you that you aren’t going to lie to me." Bob was sworn in, and stood there for a moment silent and unsure what he was supposed to do.

Judge Fielder leaned back in his chair and waved his hand towards Bob, "now why don’t you tell me why you are sitting there today Mr. Graven, and we’ll see where it goes." He closed his eyes and leaned back, putting his hands together in front of him, fingertips touching, with only the pointer-fingers moving, to tap together every so often.

Bob swallowed hard and began: "Your honor," he looked at his attorney who stood and whispered for him not to say anything incriminating, prompting a look from the judge that immediately seated the attorney. "I am here today because... a house I built... collapsed..." the attorney shook his head, "fell in... after the... windstorm last Tuesday evening."

"You built that house?" Fielder asked, sitting up and opening his eyes, "that one that fell like a stack of cards?" Bob didn’t know what to say, but the judge waved it off. "You built the Driscol home not more than two months ago, that right?"

"I finished it, yes." Bob said.

"I’ll agree to that," the judge said. "So Bob, tell me: what makes a well-built house just topple and fold on itself like a paper sack under a watermelon just two months after it’s been finished?"
"Nothing." Bob said.

"I agree with that too," the judge said, "and yet the Driscol house did just that which tells us what Bob?" He waited while Bob realized where the judge’s questions were going.

"That..." Bob hesitated trying to word it just right, "in certain cases, well-built houses can..."

"Cut the bull Robert," Judge Fielder said, "you just swore to tell the truth, now if you ain’t going to do that, you just sit down and shut up." Bob sat down. "It’s a shame, Bob. I know your folks, we go to church together. We were both deacons a couple years back. You want me to call them in here and tell them their son just about lied to me? Lied to a judge?" Judge Fielder shook his head. "It’s a pity you’re even here Bob, because, according to the inspectors who looked at that house that fell, you are responsible for building it, and I quote ‘like a lame-brained chimp’ unquote." The courtroom broke out in laughter. "Yes, it’s funny. That’s what inspector Davis from over in Rock Grove said, and I kinda liked it. It’s funny," he paused while the room grew silent again, "except when you take into account the three lives who were killed because of it. You know that’s just about murder in the first, Robert Graven – pre-meditated murder." The judge nodded to Charlie who went to the backdoor of the court, and opened it, ushering in a man looking like his family had just been killed. "I expect you don’t need to be told who this is." Bob couldn’t look at him. "You take a good look at Mr. Driscol, Robert. You look into his eyes, and you see what you done to him. Court will take a recess while I change bandages on my head."

When the court reconvened twenty minutes later, judge Fielder asked the prosecution to call his witnesses – the inspectors – who were examined and cross-examined for their testimonies that it was due to shoddy construction that caused the building to collapse. Then the prosecution called the building inspectors who had passed the works, and they told about being bribed and talked out of it, to which the Judge told them both "I’ll deal with you two later."

The defense attorney kept waiting to call his witnesses, but it didn’t come. At the end of the day they had gone through all of the witnesses for the prosecution, except one, and then they were adjourned until the following day. When the next day came, the prosecution was asked to call their next witness, and the defense attorney objected.

"What?" He asked the defense as both attorneys approached the bench. "You got a problem son? Are you so fired up you can’t wait until after he calls his witness and you both take a whack at him?"

"You haven’t let me call any witnesses for the defense." He said flatly to the judge.

"So what? You are going to call character witnesses, but it ain’t about character," he said, looking over his glasses at the young lawyer. "Besides, I know the boy, so I’m the best character witness you’ve got, other than his parents, and that won’t make a lick of difference in this case, so why don’t you just sit down, and I’ll get to you after this witness."
- - - - - - -


The trial lasted three days, by which time it was proven, beyond a shadow of doubt that Bob was a nice guy who everybody liked and didn’t want to hurt anyone, but that he had done a slap-shod job on the Driscol house, and at least three others as far as the inspectors were concerned. They didn’t put it at murder one, because he had no intention of killing anyone. Second degree murder. Guilty. Sentencing time.

Judge Fielder sat down, and motioned for the rest of the courtroom to be seated as well. "Well, Robert Graven, you are in a heap of trouble, I don’t have to tell you." Bob nodded his head while looking down at his feet – the same posture he had held throughout the trial. "I have been talking with those folks whose houses may fall down on them too, and there’s no two ways about it: you’re going to have to pay for them to get their houses up to code." Bob looked up and nodded, still looking sheepish. "But as for the Driscols... well..." the judge looked over at Mr. Driscol who nodded. "He’s going to get a new house out of you too, but that ain’t all." Bob looked up desperate for good news, "So, just to be clear, you’re going to pay for the three houses to be built, re-built, or modified until they all meet code. We all got that?" Everyone nodded. "Now here’s the tricky part: you ain’t going to jail, and you ain’t going to be fined, and you ain’t going to do community service, you will be assigned a task., and here it is:" the judge cleared his throat, and looked down at a paper he had in front of him, "I hope you don’t mind if Mr. Driscol reads this part, because I can’t remember all what he and I hashed out after you was pronounced Guilty last evening. Bear in mind, this here was written mostly by him, not me – you bear that in mind, son." Bob hung his head again as judge Fielder handed the document to Mr. Driscol.

"Robert Graven is a fine builder –" Mr. Driscol began in a shaky voice, "or at least, he used to be. When he built the town hall, my parent’s house, and the power plant, we all took pride in his work, and so did he. Somewhere along the way Bob forgot to take pride in his work and instead put pride in himself and got sloppy in his work until my family became the victims of his brutal pride in self over work." He looked up to see Bob staring at him with moist eyes, "Since Mr. Graves is a builder, and it is because he did not take pride in what he did, it is only fitting that his punishment fit his crime." There was a murmur in the crowd which was quickly hushed by a glance from the judge across their faces.

"And so it falls to you, Mr. Robert Graven, to construct a modern wonder of the world." There were gasps and fits of laughter, and someone screaming, because they didn’t know what else to do.

Amid all this, the judge yelled out a final word: "The terms of said wonder are to be spelled out in a document we’ll go over tonight. This court is adjourned."

That night, around the judge’s desk, sat the defense attorney, Mr. Graven, and judge Fielder, and in the center of the desk sat three copies of the judgement: one for each of them. "I filed the original in the courthouse, and made us each a copy to go over the terms so you won’t have to worry about remembering. If you ever forget," the judge said with a smile, "we’ve got more copies."

"I don’t understand," the attorney said, "why won’t Mr. Driscol take more remunerations in lieu of this... for lack of a better term, ‘wonder’ my client is to undertake?"

"I don’t know," said the judge, "but I think it had something to do with all those character witnesses you called for him." The attorney sat back into his chair, annoyed, and crossed his arms to listen. "Don’t worry, son," he said, patting the knee of the attorney, "this ain’t like most cases. We’re an experimental district now." He handed out the documents to each of them, then sat back and adjusted his glasses. "This is more of a list of do’s and don’ts – guidelines only, so just don’t fret about what you’re going to build yet, and let’s just take a look here."

The document was written very specifically and in legal terms, but the gist of it was this:

Robert Graven must create a world wonder.

1) It can’t be a pyramid, because Egypt has one.
2) It can’t be a large arch, because Missouri has one.
3) It can’t be a giant statue, because that’s just boring.

It would have to be something different than all of the wonders of the world so far, and yet there were a few things it had to do: it had to attract tourism to Iowa, it had to be usable, and it has to be his own idea. Robert Graven would have to actually build it (though he could have help, he had to do the majority of the work from inception to completion), and he can’t do anything else work-wise until it is done.

"That being said," judge Fielder concluded, "We’ve got room and board for you, and won’t cut off your phone or power until you are done with the building of this thing."

"Where is the room and board?" Asked the attorney skeptically.

"In my home."

"And if he refuses?" the attorney asked.

"Federal prison for life." the judge said coldly, "without possibility of parole until after 40 years. Take it or leave it."

"But what can I build?" Robert asked.

3 Comments:

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

Is that the end?
If so, I don't get it.
It's intriguing up till that point though.

 
At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for chapter 2!!! One helpful comment - He was Bob Graven at the beginning, but switched to Bob Graves midway.

It reminded me of Kansas, "World's Largest..." (swimming pool, etc.)

And Nebraska's, "World's Only..." (slick track, etc.)

I'm wondering what Iowa's "World's" will be? World's Favorite? World's Best? World's Wonder?

Hmmmmm.... Brings back such memories of Scoopin' the Loop and etc. Love the setting.

Mom

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait. It didn't post my comment. GRR...

trying again.

On closer inspection, the cause of the collapse was determined to be shoddy workmanship by Graven Construction’s Bob Graven

"shoddy" is a little too-much to swallow, even for a newcaster or copy editor. I don't care how tiny the town is compared to other towns..

"not-to-code" "antiquated" "poor"

Anyway. Give us more of the story. (Then we can really make some comments.)

P.s. A lot of long sentences in the passage. (Unless you were purposely doing that, to which I would say "DONT," try to vary some sentences.)

 

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