22 August 1939
“Our strength is our speed and our brutality…I have provided my Death-Head Units with orders to mercilessly and without compassion, send men, women, and children…to their death… Who still speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Bedros Elmassian strolled down Bayburt’s main street after picking up the gold coins for the monthly payment to the prince. He tried to look as casual as he could—just another leisurely walk home for a quiet evening with his family. He turned down the narrow dirt alley that connected the main street to the only paved road in town. Two blocks down Emerald Street, past the giant houses of the Bayburt elite, and Bedros would reach his comfortable home at the edge of town. The prince’s men would collect the family’s tribute in the morning.
Kaj Mohmod saw Bedros and his heart began to race. He slipped quietly into the alley and stepped into the entrance of a small courtyard. Time seemed to stand still as Kaj held his breath, waiting. It’s taking too long. He should be here by now. The waiting…always the waiting. Really, he should be here by now.
Then the march of time reasserted itself, marked by the sound of Bedros’ footsteps as he moved through the alley. Kaj stiffened and gripped the handle of his hatchet so tightly that he could feel his hand going numb. As he listened to every step getting closer and closer, an intense tingling raced throughout his body. He had to move, to jump, to stomp, to shuffle… anything.
Finally, Bedros passed by. Kaj crept into the alley behind him. He raised his hatchet high above his head, then drove it down as hard as he could. In his excitement, Kaj had lunged too far forward. Instead of splitting his target’s head with the blade, the handle of his weapon crashed down on Bedros’s shoulder.
Bedros recoiled in pain but recovered his legs without falling. He straightened up and turned to face his attacker.
Kaj screamed in frustration, swinging his hatchet like an Olympic hammer thrower. This time the blade found its mark, splitting Bedros’s face above the lower jaw. Bedros collapsed in agony, his blood spraying all over Kaj. The hatchet blade snapped out of Bedros’s head. Still screaming, Kaj dropped to his knees and continued to pound the hatchet into the shattered skull over and over until the blade stuck. Then he rolled the body over and reached into the pocket of Bedros’s jacket.
It’s not here. It has to be here. Working for the infidels at the town’s only bank was humiliating. Kaj was from a successful family that owned a spice business in Tsarevo. They lost the business, and everything else, in 1912 when the Bulgarian army chased them from their homes. In the mad rush to reach the safety of Constantinople, Kaj was separated from his family.
He arrived in the capital of the Ottoman Empire alongside thousands of other nameless refugees. Finding only rejection, he started a long, lonely trek east looking for work. When he arrived in Bayburt, his business experience helped him land a job at the bank. He hated it. The pay was horrible—barely enough to live on. Worse yet, the bank was managed by an Armenian man. Seeing an inferior race living better than his own people distressed Kaj at the nucleus of his soul. His rage was unbearable.
But the degrading position had its perks. On the first day of every month, Kaj observed Bedros Elmassian withdraw from the bank one gold coin for everyone in his extended Armenian family. The money was in a small leather purse, which Bedros placed into the left inside pocket of his coat.
Kaj punched Bedros’s dead body in the chest and screamed. He checked again. It has to be here. But no, the pocket was empty. Kaj flailed away like a child having a temper tantrum until his right hand was jolted by a shock of sudden pain. He had hit something hard on Bedros’s right side. No, it was his left side. In his enraged state, Kaj had checked the wrong pocket.
“Hey, what are you doing there?”
Kaj jumped to his feet. He tried to run but tripped over the bloody mass that had been Bedros. Covered in blood and holding the sack of gold, Kaj was caught.