Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Kitty Pole Cooks Up a Pardon for the Nun, But will GOVERNOR STONEMAN SWALLOW IT?

Local Woman Needs Anyone With a Pen and A Bleeding Heart!!

By John Dimson

Crime Reporter

We all know Kitty Pole. She's our one and only cafe lady. At one time or another, Kitty's made her famous chestnut-flavored coffee for each and every one of us here in town.

And yes, she fixes a mighty tasty breakfast at that tiny cafe tucked beneath her sky blue house. Her sweet potato homefries are famous. Her ham and pepper omelettes are divine.

Oh, and she whips up a fierce plum cobbler too. (Ask anybody who's tried it!)

But what's got into Kitty now? She's trying to cook up a stew that is altogether new for her. She's meddling in the court system, and it's not clear what she's up to or what she expects to get out of doing it.

For the last few weeks, Kitty's been going door to door -- even promising free cafe meals -- to anybody who pens a letter to our good Governor Stoneman. Kitty's turned organizer, asking that all of her neighbors team up to request a pardon for our notorious Sister Renata, the nun convicted of slicing her cousin Antonie's throat!

Dear Kitty, with all due respect, what goes on here? Maybe the cafe business is too slow?

According to the Examiner story, published right after the murder last fall, Señor Quiero de Lopez' jugular vein was sliced with a straight razor. And in a particularly gory detail, the poor man's Adam's apple was cored out of his neck!

The very same day that Sister Renata was arrested, a sheriff's deputy found the nun's discarded black habit, coated in blood, buried in the vegetable garden behind the convent!

During the trial, a dozen of Sister Renata's fellow nuns traveled to Gallejo to testify on her behalf. Each of the Dominican nuns went into great detail about Renata's character. Not a blemish, they claimed.

I wish I could believe them!

After all was said and done, Renata was convicted last month of first-degree murder. She is scheduled to die by hanging on January 6th, a mere three weeks from now.

But now, along comes our own Kitty Pole -- who by the way is housing the convicted nun right there in her blue house (by arrangement of the court, I should point out!) Something's come over Kitty, because now the good cafe lady is trying to stop the whole criminal justice system in its tracks!

What qualifies Kitty -- a splendid cook to be sure -- to think she can stir up sympathy for a convicted killer? And how does she expect to gather enough letters here in our small village? So far she's collected a total of only 17 letters, so it looks like she has her work cut out for her!

When she came by my office recently to chat, this is what she said: "We will be making a bad mistake if we send that poor nun to the gallows. I've read the nun's journal, and if you would do the same thing Mr. Dimson then you'd see she can't possibly be guilty of her cousin's murder!"

Just for the record, I read the court transcripts, and I've seen the nun's diary. But what makes Kitty so convinced that it exonerates the nun?

Kitty claims that the nun was framed by her clever cousin. Perhaps.

But what about that bloody corpse that the authorities found? And the nun's habit, coated in blood, buried in the garden? That's the kind of evidence that's hard to ignore.

Kitty flushes to her roots, and her cheeks turn cherry pink, when she discusses the trial. She turns even more passionate when she asks folks to write letters.

"Well of course I am passionate," she said. "It is a human life at stake here. Think about that! The point, Mr. Dimson, sir, is that we have to convince him, the Governor. We must! The whole town must take her side, writing letters, calling for her pardon. If we show him that we are sympathetic, perhaps then he will be convinced!"

Perhaps, Miss Kitty.

But perhaps not. The question is, will Governor Stoneman listen?
And by the way, Kitty Pole, you might take a few moments to think about that other human life -- the one that was cut short by his own straight razor! Poor man, that Antonie!

Miss Kitty, you've got some serious cooking ahead of you! And the whole town's watching too, to see if you really do succeed in setting a convicted killer free!

Why should our good Governor swallow this story?

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Heaven Help Me, Another Newspaper Tries to Do Me In!!

One week exactly after visiting the newspaper, we woke up to old Bean the jailer knocking on Kitty's door. He can't read, the poor man, but he'd learned that the Gazette had printed our story and he'd been promised a quarter by Kitty if he bought the newspaper and brought it to the house for us to see.

As she closed the door, my head was spinning in memories. I've seen what newspapers can do when they want to skewer you. It happened to me when the San Francisco paper wrote about me just after I was arrested for Antonie's murder. That article convicted me way ahead of the trial!

But here now was still another newspaper, the local Gazette, and judging by the look on Kitty's face as she placed the paper on the table, it wasn't good.

Kitty muttered something and I asked her to read the headline out loud. She inhaled. And read each word at a painfully slow tempo.

Local Woman Needs Anyone With a Pen and A Bleeding Heart!!

I winced and sank deeper into the sofa.

Kitty cleared her throat and carefully unfolded the paper and spread it on the oak table. She and Teresa pulled up their chairs. I just stayed put there on the couch staring at Kitty's remarkable tin ceiling, my eyes tracing the curlicue patterns.

"Aren't you going to look with us?" Kitty asked quietly.

I shook my head back and forth, very slowly, feeling the tears gathering. A tight panic began squeezing at my insides. "No, you two can read it first, and if it's as bad as I think it will be, I'm...I'll just pass. I am not sure I have the stomach for it."

And so Teresa and Kitty read John Dimson's article in silence. I put my hands over my face and only once glanced up when I thought I heard Kitty sucking on her teeth. At that moment I noticed Teresa shake her head ever so slightly. They finished. They sat there.

My heart hammered. I wasn't able to speak. I wanted desperately to know. I wanted desperately not to know. I wanted most of all to go to sleep and forget the whole matter. But how could I possibly forget the fact that I was going to the gallows in a matter of days?

Finally Kitty spoke.

"Well that young man deserves a good sharp boot right smack in his back side."

"I'd agree completely," Teresa said. She sounded rather weary, even though it was still early in the morning.

"But then," Kitty went on," I could tell right away. The moment I laid eyes on him last week. His whole demeanor. That reporter is well-named. Dimson. DIM-witted Son of a..."

"Oh KITTY!" Teresa covered her ears and shook her head vigorously as if to rid herself of the vulgar outburst.

"Well, sorry for that, Sister, I do apologize, but that man wrote the least sympathetic piece of dirty laundry I've ever read, and hung it out for all to see. And not only does it hurt our cause, but the story isn't even accurate. I am sure that I told him we'd collected 27 letters, not 17. I know for a fact because I had the stack in my hand for Pete's sake."

Teresa inhaled. "It makes no difference really. If he'd written 27, or 207, in that awful story, it would matter not one bit!"

By now, I felt that I might wet my pants. My mouth was so parched and dry that my tongue felt withered. I couldn't speak but I started to cry. Teresa and Kitty rushed from the table to the sofa, where I lay.

"Heavens, don't take it so hard," Kitty said, sitting beside me and squeezing me in a tight embrace. "It doesn't matter what the silly paper writes. I will go door to door, starting this afternoon!"

"And I will go with you," Teresa said, placing a hand on my arm.

I sat there sniffling. I wanted to say, "I'd just as soon you don't. I would just as soon you accepted the inevitable and gave up. I would just as soon you had never tried." But none of that came out of my mouth. I had so little energy to speak. What did it matter, what I said? What did anything matter now?

I knew that I had to read the article for myself. But how to find the courage? The strength?

"Teresa, dear, if you wouldn't mind, would you be kind enough to bring the paper here to me? I don't know that I have in me to sit there at the table with it."

"Of course I will," Teresa said.

Kitty stood. "But wait. Before you read a word of that foul stuff, you need a good strong cup of tea," she declared. She stopped. "Or would you rather my famous chestnut coffee?"

I considered saying that I wanted a shot of old Bean's whiskey.

"A cup of tea would be delightful," I said and forced a smile. And so Kitty made me tea, and brought it to me in one of her grandmother's fine china cups, a pretty green. And she also buttered me a fresh biscuit with raspberry jam.

And only when I'd finished both of these did Teresa bring me the dreaded newspaper article by Mr. John Dimson. Once more I had in front of me the writing of a man who, like Antonie, was using his clever words to turn my life inside out.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Flies, Flies, Flies

When I have those moments of despair, when all else fails to cheer me, well, then there are the flies and I tend to them religiously. I laugh thinking about myself doing that. Tending to flies. I laugh. I realize someone might think that I enjoy killing flies.

Absurd. That is never my intention. Well. Perhaps occasionally it is…

The cafe downstairs -- Kitty's place, is a breeding ground. Kitty and Señora are always frying. Endlessly. Bread dough. Donuts. Chicken. Home fries. Or if they’re not frying, they are baking rolls or stirring tortilla soup or grilling steaks in flat pans, and the odors bring the godawful flies up to the windows and I know I shouldn't kill them but I do, I am determined to keep the windows clean, I mean I see that as part of my job.

So I try to catch them in the dishtowels. I try not to squash them, as it bothers Sister Teresa so, she values all life, every morsel, so I try not to let Teresa see me do it, if she happens to enter the room and I am about to swat the fly, I just scoop it into the towel or…

Sometimes if I’ve just killed a fly, I will sit on the towel.

But that's not what I want to tell you. What I want to tell you about is the visit to the newspaper office two days ago with Kitty and toothless Bean, the old jailer who put me in cuffs behind my back. I was allowed to go only because of Kitty's letter campaign, she is determined to convince Governor Stoneman to free me, she is a saint that woman.

What can I say about Kitty is she is becoming a dear friend to me. It doesn’t matter, but I do care deeply about what motivates her. I believe that she lost a daughter. I know now the name of the child in the portrait, the child with the mass of strawberry ringlets, her name was Lynda with a why. I do not mean why, I mean Y.

Why and how she died, I do not know. I have tried to ask Kitty but she will say nothing. I have begged Teresa to tell me the story but she simply shakes her head.

Oh. There now. There is another one, excuse me, I am determined to keep the damn windows clean and fly-free, I mean, I am sorry for swearing, there is more of that these days, Teresa heard me take the Lord's name in vain, she complained to me, but that's what has happened, I am changing, I am...something is coming loose inside me, my tongue feels unhinged, my mind, pressed, I think perhaps it is the flies buzzing, and me waiting for the worst possible end, the buzzing, the waiting, they will drive a person crazy.

I've got the dishtowel but now the fly is gone.

That being said, what I am meaning to tell you about is our visit to the newspaper, the reporter sitting there when we arrived, tapping on an elegant old machine, I've never seen one th…

It’s back. Excuse me. I will get the fly and that will be the end of it.

I’m back.

Frankly, when Kitty told me that we would "drop by" the newspaper, I was horrified. The idea that they were going to do a story, I was at first so very concerned. Not surprising, considering what the San Francisco newspaper wrote about me, hanging me before I had even been tried!

I told Kitty that I was quite upset. I told her that I wouldn't go to the paper I call it The Gaze-Ette -- because they were sure to write a piece that, my God, there, there is another fly.

I got that fly. I …

And another, landing here beside my journal.

And another. UGH. A bloody mass here, a cloud of a dozen or more swirling around me.


I apologize for the interruption but I had to get them all. I must get them. They buzz and circle, surround my head and they land in the windows and bounce against the glass. Rather disturbing to me.

I know all this about the flies might not seem important but I dreamed about flies last night. I am not certain why. Perhaps because they are trapped. Perhaps because they are trying so desperately to flee. Because the flies remind me a bit of myself.

Trapped as I am. Both of us. Black and going in circles. The flies and I stand at Kitty’s window and we desperately want to be free, and so I let them go if I can but when there are a cloud of them I fumble with the dishtowel.

Too much. Too many. So many that I must kill them, I kill them and the truth be told there is some kind of unhealthy satisfaction in that.

Back to the visit. This is a newspaper that prints lies. Or at least, opinions.

We arrived at the newspaper office – a single room with a kind of closet attached where they keep and operate a telegraph – we got there just after noon. The room was intensely warm.

A gaunt young man sat at the typewriter. I was introduced but as my hands were cuffed behind me, I could only drop my head.

He gazed at me over his spectacles. Which by the way were dirty. Streaked!

His name: John Dimson. Dark and wavy blonde hair, rather oily. And a wiry blonde mustache. Black topcoat. So formal. So funereal. And in that heat. What possesses him? In my case, I have no choice but to dress in black. Sister Teresa brought me a brand new habit, after my last disintegrated in the prison.

After we sat down, he removed the topcoat. White shirt, yellowed collar and beneath his armpits, great wet stains. He pressed the nose of his round spectacles to his face. He has a most unpleasant laugh. And he refused to look at me. He has a way of swaying slightly right and left as he speaks.

He banged on the typewriter, snapping the keys into submission while Kitty explained to him her letter-writing campaign. He stopped when she removed from her purse and presented to him the letter from Governor Stoneman. He sat back and read it and then pulled at his mustache. He laid the letter down on the oak desk.

“I don’t see the Governor here making anything that begins to sound like a promise, Ms. Kitty,” he announced rather somberly.

“Well of course not,” Kitty snapped back. She took the letter and folded it carefully and tucked it back into its onion skin envelope.

“The point, Mr. Dimson, sir, is that we have to convince him, the whole town must be on her side writing letters, all on her behalf, all sympathetic, and then we send them to him, and then perhaps he can be convinced.”

Another. Another fly. Three. Easily caught however in one dishtowel swipe. Oh, sorry, just two. One injured. Not sure. Ah. Here, now, a fleck of a wing right here. IN my hand.

Then I wipe the window clean.

“So, Ms. Kitty, this letter-campaign. How many have you collected? And how is it that you are approaching individuals, to ask folks to write them?”

Kitty pulled herself upright. Nodded and smiled. Explained her pitch. Told Dimson how she gives one free café meal to each letter writer.

Announced our up to date total: 27 letters.

Dimson took a handkerchief from his hip pocket. Wiped his forehead. I sat, thinking about my own face. I had to be, pink flushed damp. But with my hands at my back, there was nothing to be done.

It was at that moment, I saw the fly.

Land on Dimson’s typewriter. There.

It sat. Dimson was asking Kitty how many letters she thought she would be able to collect.

I watched the fly. I stared as it dropped into the pit where the keys pound the paper.

I didn’t see it.

Kitty was saying there was – obviously -- a “time constraint.” I am scheduled to walk those five steps to the gallows on the 6th.

“I am hoping for 200 letters,” she said. She lifted her chin in defiance.

“Miss Kitty, for heaven’s sake, that would be remarkable. We have only 642 citizens. You are saying that approximately one in three people will be willing to wr...”

“It is entirely possible,” she interrupted. “And there is no loss in trying, now is there Mr. Dimson?”

He gazed at her with a narrow-eyed look, and gave a quick shove to his spectacles, pressing them to the bridge of his nose. Wrinkling his mouth, and looking a little bored, he turned to the typewriter. He placed his fingers on the keys. I thought about the fly there in the pit. I gasped.

Dimson and Kitty looked over at me. My eyes widened. I kept staring. I felt like

A fly.

“I…” I nodded. “A fly. There. Just now landed in your typewriter.” I nodded again. Kept pointing. Dimson frowned. Looked rather annoyed by this whole business. Our visit.

Just then the fly lifted out of the typewriter and circled once, then headed for the window.

Dimson continued typing.

We left. No sign of fly as we left.

The article, Dimson says, will be in the newspaper by week’s end.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: A Flurry of Letters But Will They Help?

Kitty is busy writing letters and what's more, she is getting friends and neighbors, and fellow nuns back at the convent to write letters too. What began as Kitty's pet project -- convincing Governor Stoneman to spare my life -- has now taken on a life of its own.

I cannot say that I understand how this has happened. Why exactly she is so determined to save my life, I'm not sure, but Teresa insists that Kitty's motives are pure and simple.

"We have had a number of long talks about Antonie, and his illness and his bizarre storytelling, and how those stories compromised you, and she was enraged. She wants to rectify the tragedy of what he did to you." Teresa explained this to me a few days ago while standing at Kitty's sink, rinsing the evening dishes. Kitty was downstairs in the cafe, serving dinner with Señora. "I tell you, Renata, that woman is an inspiration to me. Kitty has a great heart, and a magical spirit that carries her. She is full of life."

But when I pressed Teresa to explain what precisely motivates Kitty to be such a tireless advocate for me, Teresa clammed up. "I am not really at liberty to say," she mumbled.

"Oh Teresa, come now. If you know something, for heaven's sake, you ought to tell me."

Teresa looked up toward the ceiling and said nothing at first. Then she turned to me. "Kitty has had a very hard and challenging life, but she has transformed her challenges into opportunities."

"Yes, well, you've said that. But I wondered about the basics. Like, was she ever married? Was she a mother? Is that portrait in the bedroom her child?"

Teresa wiped the last cup and set it on the shelf. She shook her head briskly. "No reason to get into all of that," she said. "After all, what difference does it make to your situation? If you feel it is necessary and you want to ask Kitty, well then go ahead and ask her yourself." She shrugged and untied her apron and at that moment I thought to myself, Teresa has been putting on weight. She looks wider than I remember her at the convent.

"Now I have to run downstairs to the cafe to help out."

I believe that Kitty's a good soul, I don't doubt that. But this intensely-focused letter-writing campaign of hers must stem from something. As I've said before, I suspect that Kitty lost a child -- all I know is that she touches that portrait of the girl with the strawberry curls, the one hanging in her bedroom, at least two or three times a day. Only some deep emotional pain -- a deep, deep well of it -- could fuel her efforts and keep her so focused, working so fervently on my behalf.

I suppose it doesn't matter a bit. And I should be grateful. All I know is that she has a sign up in the cafe offering a free meal to anyone who will write a letter! And the newspaper is set to run a story on the letter campaign.

As soon as I heard the word "newspaper" I cringed, thinking back to that first horrifying story after I was arrested -- I felt crucified in words. And all subsequent reports about my trial were in the same vein. But Kitty assures me that this is going to be a different story, one that explains why an ordinary citizen has come forward to advocate for a woman in need.

Apparently, there are others she has convinced. All I know is that I woke from a nap four afternoons ago, lying there in the parlor on her sofa, with sunlight bathing the quilt that covered me. As soon as I woke up, I realized that Kitty had visitors.

I had been dreaming that I was, of all things, a centaur, half horse, half woman, and that I was galluping off to war! I woke up with tears in my eyes, because I realized that I was almost certainly going to be killed in battle!

That thought had me sniffling and teary when I came to, but there across the parlor, sitting at Kitty's oak table, were three strangers, two rather portly ladies, and one very tall thin woman. All of them are neighbors of Kitty's. Two were sipping lemonade Teresa had fixed, and the third had a glass of port. A plate of cookies sat on the table, and from what I was able to see, the two heavyset ladies were doing justice to the sweets.

It occurred to me that perhaps Kitty was soliciting letter writers by promising the writers free food and drink.

In any case, I lay there, wrapped in the quilt, remaining quiet, just observing, listening to Kitty explain her mission. "Sister Renata is no more guilty of a crime than you or me!" Kitty began. "I can tell you that she has a journal and I've read parts of it, and the way she cared for her cousin, Antonie, she is worthy of a medal. And this is the same man she is accused of killing."

The ladies remained quiet. The two cookie eaters continued to nibble.

"Her cousin, I'm afraid, was very ill, and..." Kitty paused. "Lord help me, but he wasn't right in the head. He wrote some bizarre tales about her. Plain and simply, he lied, but because of his position around here, everyone believe him, and Renata paid the price." Kitty sat forward. "And so I see it as our moral duty to help set her free!"

She brought her fist down hard on the oak table, hard enough so that the plate with the cookies rattled. The three neighbors shifted in their seats. The two heavy women stopped eating.

"Sister Renata's lawyer believes that there is a good chance that the Governor would spare the nun's life if a significant portion of the community is sympathetic to her situation," Kitty continued, now folding her hands and looking from one woman to the next. "And so I'm asking you, can you write a little letter asking Governor Stoneman for mercy?"

This particular meeting with the neighbors was just one of many that Kitty has held, either here in the parlor, or downstairs in the cafe. She has called a public meeting for next week to lay out her case. She asked Deluria if I would be permitted to attend but as I am technically in jail, and this is not a courtroom proceeding, he said I would not be allowed to go.

Just as well, as I know it would be painful to confront a crowd.

After Kitty delivered her pitch the other afternoon, the tall woman asked a question. "I guess I am wondering this, Miss Kitty. Why didn't you try to keep her from gettin' convicted in the first place?"

"Well that would have been ideal, I agree, Alice. But you know the court works the way the court works. And her lawyer, the truth be told, was barely able to hold his own." Kitty took a sip of lemonade herself. "What else you should know is that it took me some time to grow firm in my conviction that Renata is innocent. I went to every day of the trial, and as you know, I've had her in my house here." She gestured in my direction and the next thing I knew I had all four of them staring at me, still snuggled quietly under the quilt on the sofa.

"Oh, Renata, you are awake, I would make you a cup of tea and I will as soon as I am finished here."

"Thank you Kitty, I think you're doing plenty as it is. Not to worry about my tea!"

The three neighbors gazed at me as though I was a panther or a mountain lion in captivity. I suspect that never had any of them seen a convicted murderer up close, I pulled the quilt up over my chin.

And in a matter of minutes, the three of them were on their way, with the tall woman saying she would "give some thought" to a letter. The other two cookie-eaters refused to commit to doing anything on my behalf.

After they had left, Kitty reassured me that she had met with several other neighbors in the cafe earlier in the day and "had at least seven promised letters." Of course promises are cheap, I keep reminding myself of that fact.

But now, today, Kitty has shown me a small stack of actual letters -- eight to be exact. Some are just a few paragraphs long, scrawled in the sloppiest penmanship I've ever seen. But there is one letter that I must admit, I've already read it a dozen times, it too is short, but it presents my case in such a highly favorable light. And what's more, the handwriting is some of the prettiest I've ever seen!