Tuesday, November 11, 2014

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE: Renata, You Have to Go Back to Jail to Before You Can Go Free !





It is mid-day, beastly hot, the sky a warm resilient blue. Arthur has not been able to push the horse faster than a walk. The wagon's slow pace is making Renata impatient. Her face is flushed and warm and the thermos of lemonade that Teresa made for her is almost empty. There are three canteens of water which ought to last the trip.

At one point Renata reaches over and takes Teresa's hand. That's when Renata finds the black rosary beads clutched in Teresa's hand. "May I pray with you?" Renata whispers and Teresa nods her head and smiles. She takes Renata's fingers and closes them around the beads. The two nuns pray silently for the next hour.

Teresa is praying that the lawyer, DeLuria, will have some idea how to introduce the missing journal pages to the court so that Renata's new evidence will convince the judge that the case should be reopened and the verdict overturned. Unfortunately, Renata is right about DeLuria, he's never had a bit of imagination or inspiration before, so it's hard to imagine that given one more chance to prove himself, he's likely to rise to the occasion.  

Arthur pulls up the reins, stopping the horse. "We are almost at the crest of the hill where it dips down into town," he says. "Are we headed straight to the courthouse and jail or..."

"Before we go there we want to visit with Renata's lawyer, a fellow named DeLuria," Teresa explains. Renata clucks her tongue. "His office is half-way down the hill, before the store and the church." 

He snaps up the reins and pushes the horse forward, at the same slow pace that he's followed all morning. "I see a creek running down the hill there," Arthur says gesturing with his chin. "I ought to stop as soon as we can get closer in, give the horse some water, and a good rest."

Which they do in the next few minutes. He unhitches the horse from the wagon while Renata and Teresa descend to the stream next to a grassy knoll.  Renata drops to her knees by the creek, bends over and splashes cold water on her flushed face. Then she cups her two hands together to drink.  When she stands she has muddied her calico dress with two large wet spots at the knees.

"Please tell me you brought something else to wear in court," Teresa says, eyeing the mud. "You could lose your appeal if they feel you are disrespecting the judge or the legal system."

"I'm not trying to win a fashion contest," Renata says. "I have only this one dress."

"If only I could have loaned you a habit," Teresa said, her face sad.

"Don't trouble yourself about things you cannot fix, my dear girl. We will have to make do with a muddy dress."

Soon the three of them are back in the wagon and the horse is leading them slowly into town. Teresa points to the General store and tells Arthur to pull up there. Teresa drops down first. "Assuming he's even there," she says, "I will explain the situation to him, and see what he has to offer." She inhales and drops the rosary beads into her pocket.  "We won't get our hopes up yet."

Renata smirks. "We won't get our hopes up that's for sure."

Teresa ignores the comment and enters the wooden building, where DeLuria occupies an office on the second floor.  The office building was once a small two-story house, so she climbs a winding staircase to reach his door. She knocks.

"Come in."

Teresa's heart bumps inside her chest. She opens the door. "Hello, I am sorry to barge in on you without any warning, but something extraordinary has happened with Sister Renata's case."

DeLuria's face is lacking the least bit of emotion, while Teresa's face and voice are flooded with urgency and passion.  Tenting his long bony fingers together over his white frocked shirt, De Luria looks bored.  "To what do we own this extraordinary development?"

Teresa moves into the office and without asking, takes a seat beside DeLuria's mahogany desk. It is absent of any papers, or file folders, or books, which Teresa finds surprising.

"Do you remember Señora Ramos, Antonie's Mexican housekeeper?"

Still holding his fingers tented and resting against his closed lips, De Luria nods.  "Yes, I guess I remember seeing her a few times in court and making regular trips to the jail to bring Renata a guitar and foods in baskets and other such things."

"Yes, well, if you recall we have always made a big point of saying that Renata's journal was missing some crucial pages, pages that described the way in which Antonie died.  Until now, Renata has refused to produce those pages and wouldn't even explain why."

"Of course I remember the missing pages." DeLuria now looks impatient, and even a little disgusted. "I told Renata time and again that she had to produce those pages if she wanted a prayer of a chance to go free. I told her that she had to have an alibi and she consistently and completely ignored me.  Now what's she up to? It's a little late for whatever it is she's got up her nun's sleeve." DeLuria has a know-it-all sneer on his face.  Suddenly Teresa wants to be done with him and this place. It gives her the creeps.

"Well, Mr. DeLuria, it seems as though Señora Ramos has fallen into a coma, or some kind of deep sleep, but before she did, she begged Sister Renata to produce those missing pages and to turn them in to prove her innocence. And voila, Renata was finally convinced to do what she's got to do. We have them with us in the wagon."

DeLuria drops his hands to his desk. "We? What do you mean 'we'? She's back? She actually had the audacity to come strutting back to town, to the court that ordered her hanged? Is she crazy? She must be to walk back into the jail and straight to the gallows."

He stands, and so does Teresa. "I know you are surprised. Just as we were in the convent when she turned up. But she is so certain that she can prove her innocence that she insisted on coming back today." Before Teresa can say anymore, DeLuria is out of the office and heading downstairs and outside.

His face breaks into a shrewd grin. "Well if it isn't the nun on the run," he says, his eyes glued to Renata. "You've got gumption my girl, that's for sure. That someone in your situation, facing the gallows, would walk right back into jail, where the rope is swinging, that is downright astonishing."

Renata dismisses his tone. "I wish you would keep all of your comments to yourself," she says dryly. "It wasn't my idea to stop here. But Teresa insisted that if I was turning myself in, I would do better to have you at my side."

"Glad you decided to heed Teresa's advice," DeLuria says, slipping his thumbs under each of his suspenders. His hair has grown longer, and curlier and it rests on the back of his collar now.

"Well then are you ready to help?" Renata crosses her arms in defiance.

"I will indeed accompany you to the court. But if you think for a moment that we can just waltz in, you are a fool. That's not how things are done. No one is sitting there waiting. I will send word to the Judge immediately that you are prepared to turn yourself in. Knowing Judge Perkins, and the urgency of this case, he will see you this afternoon. I would recommend you come in and freshen up before you go to court."

Renata finds her heart beating beneath her crossed arms. She uncrosses her arms and takes a drink of water from one of the canteens. Teresa is standing by the wagon to help Renata step down.  Which she does, not because she wants to talk to DeLuria, but because she really has no other practical way of turning herself in.

"Will she be able to ask for leniency?" Teresa asks.

"Of course not," De Luria practically spits out the words. "She's been on the lamb for months. She'll be lucky if they don't hang her on the spot."

"Look," Renata says, stopping in her tracks, "I'm only going back because Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos told me that I must, she insisted that I..."

"How nice of her, Renata. Now a question: since when have you been taking legal advice from a housekeeper?" DeLuria's words always come out sounding like a snarl.

Renata bites down hard into her lower lip, to keep from responding. She locks eyes with Teresa. "I am going it alone," she announces. "I don't need his help. Come on Teresa, Arthur, we have a job to do and we aren't going to get it done hanging around here."

Teresa turns to Renata and takes hold of her by both shoulders. "Don't do this Renata. You've got to let DeLuria help, he can introduce the new evidence, he can do it the right way and maybe make them see that you are..."

"NO!" Renata is trembling from head to foot and her mouth is dry like cotton. She pushes Teresa's arms away. "I don't care if I die in the gallows, I'm not putting myself at the mercy of this man ever again. I can present the evidence myself and when I do I will have the spirit of the Virgin Mary there to support me. That's what Señora told me would happen and that's exactly what I am going to do."

DeLuria gestures a hand in disgust and returns to his office. "Good luck," he says as he climbs the stairs to the second floor. "You'll need all you can get that's for sure!"

Nothing Teresa says persuades Renata to come down from the wagon to talk to DeLuria. A half hour passes before Teresa reluctantly climbs back to her seat beside Renata on the wagon. Arthur quietly takes up the reins and pushes the horse into a walk down the long hill to the courtroom and jail.  As they grow near they can see the gallows still in place, the rope shaped like a single teardrop falling from the crosspole, waiting to hang Renata.

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