Chapter 14: Recon at the Courthouse


'Recon' is short for 'reconnaissance', a military word for spying before an invasion, to understand the target area. 
Sophie and Parker needed to see what the inside of the courthouse looked like, to have an idea of what they would find when they came through the tunnel (if it led into the courthouse). 

They talked Sophie’s mom into taking a tour of the courthouse. The three of them went to the courthouse through the north doors by the security desk. There is a metal detector and a desk where Sgt. Runzi is stationed, to monitor people as they come in. He gives kids stick-on Junior Deputy badges, and also gives directions for different offices and courtrooms. Sometimes, people come to get married by a judge, so there can be a large group come in at once. 

The trio went into the courthouse and checked through security and told Sgt. Runzi that they had no particular business in the courthouse, but were new to town and wanted to see what the courthouse looked like on the inside. Sgt. Runzi told them that though they had no tour guides, they were welcome to travel the common areas (halls, etc.) and look around at their leisure. He told them that they could go anywhere the elevator would take them.

Parker asked Sgt. Runzi if they could go behind the big clock. 

“No, son. That’s called the clock-tower and, that’s off limits to the public and even most courthouse staff. But if you were a bird, you could sit on one of the clock hands all you wanted to,” he said with a wink.  And 15 minutes before or 15 minutes after the hour is when you'll most likely see a bird sitting on the clock hands."  (Reader, can you calculate why this is?)

 They walked the first floor hall, and then went up the staircase to the second floor. The 1902 courthouse was designed by an architect to look like a certain French castle in the Loire Valley. That castle was the first building to have a grand staircase, with two ways to go up and down. The second floor, as Sgt. Runzi said, is where the county offices are located. 

Both the State of Iowa and Dallas County have offices in the courthouse. 
The third floor has three courtrooms. Since there was no trial scheduled in Courtroom 300, the door was open and they were able to peek in. They saw that the courtroom has a huge vaulted ceiling. (photo) It was half-again taller than the room itself. Parker correctly stated that the vaulted ceiling must take up a good portion of the fourth floor; in what would otherwise be the attic. They looked around and thought they saw the room that the old stairs used to come up into, but they were not sure. 

Then they went up to the fourth floor, which used to be all attic.  There was one courtroom up there, encroaching into the attic.  

Every courtroom needs a court reporter’s office, 
a consultation area for the defense lawyer and client, 
a judge’s chamber and judge’s restroom/dressing room. 
Every courthouse needs jury-deliberation rooms and 
an evidence room, to hold evidence used in a trial. 
Courthouses also need a Clerk of Court’s Office that handles paperwork and schedules for trials. 
The Dallas County courthouse also holds Juvenile Court offices that look after underage offenders. 
There are many rooms and offices in a courthouse that the public never sees. 

Anyway, the fourth-floor area was a lot smaller than the other three floors, partly because of the sloping roof, and partly because of the vaulted ceiling of Courtroom 300. They passed through the common area on the fourth floor and then went down a small staircase to the third floor, then down the main staircase, all the way to the first floor. 

The trio thanked Sgt. Runzi for permission to look around, and then departed. 
As they went out the north door, they followed the sidewalk around the north and east side of the courthouse. 

Parker stopped Sophie and pointed to the windows on the fourth floor. 
“Look, windows that do nothing but shine light into the attic. I wonder why they built it like that?” 

Sophie’s mom said, “This makes the building look the same from the outside, no matter what things look like from the inside. Sometimes for the sake of symmetry, a building might have a window that people can’t see out of.” 

“Wait!” Parker shouted. “There’s a cemetery in the attic? Are there dead people up there? 
What good would a window do dead people? Were they prisoners that died in jail?" 
Parker shivered. (Parker could only hear the word 'symmetry', not read it. He thought she said 'cemetery'). 

“No, Parker, no.” Sophie’s mom giggled. “I said 'symmetry'. Symmetry is when things look the same on the left side and on the right side, like you having one nose in the middle of your face and one eye on each side of your nose, and one ear on each side of your head. That is symmetry.” 

“Oh.” Parker said, feeling embarrassed. “Well, I’m glad there is no CEMETERY in the attic of the courthouse” 

“So am I Parker. I need to go to the bank. I’ll see you at home later. Then we’ll go to the big garage sale out at the fairgrounds.” 

Sophie and Parker walked slowly past the east side of the courthouse, looking at the fourth floor windows that shine in on the vaulted ceiling and wondering what else might be behind them, other than the courtroom ceiling. 
They also talked about the little balconies on the clock tower, one on each side. 

“I see a door on each balcony.” Sophie said. “I wonder if they keep the doors locked?” 

“Why would they do that?” retorted Parker. “Who is going to climb that roof just to go up in the clock tower?” 

"You would." Sophie said.   "Or maybe that is an access to the 'cemetery' up there. Snerk."

Parker blushed. "Hey! It was an honest mistake! Aunt Anne used a word I never heard before, OKAY?

After the fuss was over, they concluded that the tour gave them no easy answers about the tunnel. 

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries.com
photo: k-o.com
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