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The Crying Tree: A Novelby Naseem Rakha
The Crying Tree
C H A P T E R 1
October 1, 2004
THE DEATH WARRANT ARRIVED THAT morning, packaged in a large white envelope marked confidential and addressed to Tab Mason, Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary. Mason had been warned the order might be coming. A couple of weeks earlier, the Crook County DA had let the word slip that after nineteen years on death row, condemned murderer Daniel Joseph Robbin had stopped his appeals.
Mason dropped the envelope on his desk, along with a file about as thick as his fist, then ran his hand over the top of his cleanly shaved skull. He’d been in corrections for twenty years–Illinois, Louisiana, Florida–and on execution detail a half- dozen occasions, but he’d never been in charge of the actual procedure. Those other times he’d simply walked the guy into the room, strapped him down, opened the blinds on the witness booth, then stood back and waited. He’d worked with one guy in Florida who’d done the job fifty times. “It becomes routine,” the officer told Mason, who was busy puking into a trash can after witnessing his fi rst execution.
Now Mason slid into his chair, flicked on his desk lamp, and opened Robbin’s file. There was the man’s picture. A front and side shot. He had been nineteen years old when he was booked, had long scraggly hair and eyes squinted to a hostile slit. Mason turned the page and began to read. On the afternoon of May 6, 1985, Daniel Joseph
Robbin beat, then shot fifteen-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley (aka “Shep”) while in the process of robbing the boy’s home at 111 Indian Ridge Lane. The victim was found still alive by his father, Deputy Sheriff Nathaniel Patrick Stanley, but died before medical
assistance could arrive. The remaining family members–wife and mother, Irene Lucinda Stanley, and twelve-year-old Barbara Lee (aka Bliss)–were not present during the incident. The Stanleys, who were originally from Illinois, had been living in Oregon for a year and a half when the incident occurred.
The superintendent leafed through more pages–court documents, letters, photos–then leaned back in his chair and looked out his window. A squat rectangular building sat on its own toward the north end of the prison’s twenty-five-acre grounds. The last time someone had been executed out there was seven- plus years ago. Mason had been working his way up through the ranks at the Florida State Prison out of Raiford, aspiring for a job like the one he had now–head of a large correctional institution, good salary, power. He blew out a long, disgusted breath. Why now? The Oregon penitentiary was way overcrowded, inmates doubled up in their cells, half of them out of their minds; fights were breaking out left and right, gangs getting tougher to handle; there were race issues, drugs–all while funding for counseling and rehab continued to get slashed. Why now, and why this?
Mason reread the warrant. The execution was scheduled for October 29, 12:01 A.M.
“Less than a goddamn month,” he said, shaking his head. Then, as if to rouse himself, he clapped his mismatched hands, one as dark as the rest of his black skin, one strangely, almost grotesquely white. There was no complaining in this job, he told himself. No moaning about what needed to be done. No stammering or stuttering or
doing anything that might show the slightest bit of resistance or hesitancy. No. Everything in his career had been leading him to this kind of challenge: his demeanor, his words, his actions would all set a tone. And he knew exactly what that tone had to be.
From the Hardcover edition.Copyright © 2009 by Naseem Rakha
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