Tuesday, November 11, 2014
CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE: A Miracle in the Court Room
The sky is a milky blue color when Renata and the others wake up. Kitty has already been up an hour, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and then, baking muffins for the breakfast meal she will serve downstairs in the cafe, promptly at eight.
Renata is first into the kitchen. Kitty is spooning corn meal dough into a cast iron muffin tin. She puts the spoon down and wipes her hands on her apron. Then she takes hold of both of Renata's hands. "I can't believe you're back," Kitty says.
"Nor can I. Sometimes I think that we may very well be making a giant mistake." Kitty turns back to her stove. Renata yawns, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "But I can't live on the run. And I shouldn't have to, because I didn't kill my cousin."
Teresa appears in the kitchen. "Katy you still have that old coffee pot? I need a lift this morning."
"Of course." Kitty reaches into the pantry for the pot. "Coffee is in the decanter beside the sink."
She finishes filling the muffin tins and takes her bowl and spoon to the sink. "So what's the schedule this morning?
Renata settles into the rocking chair that Kitty keeps in the corner beside the stove. "I'm supposed to be there by nine, and the judge says he'll give me an hour to present the new evidence."
"And that evidence consists of the missing pages of your journal, right? The pages that lay out exactly how Antonie died."
"Yes." Renata rubs her forehead. "I know it's a longshot, but I've got to do it. I have to try."
Katy slides the muffins into the oven. "I don't know much about the law, but I have my doubts that..."
"I know, Katy. I know." Renata pauses and then she whispers. "We can't be too hopeful but I have no choice. I cannot live my life on the run."
At exactly ten minutes to nine, Renata opens the door to the small courtroom. Teresa and Art follow her into the stuffy room. No judge. No sheriff.
"So where shall we sit?" Teresa asks.
Renata shrugs. "It makes no difference, does it?" Her face is pale and pinched. Teresa wraps an arm around Renata's shoulders.
"My dear sister, this is not the face we need today. You must stand up to them, find your voice, convince them that you deserve your freedom." Renata bites her lower lip. And nods.
Teresa whispers. "All you have to do is believe in your heart and soul what you know to be true. You didn't kill Antonie and you have proof now. Trust in yourself and in God. He will take care of the rest."
At that moment the judge and sheriff stride into the courtroom. The judge in his black robe takes a seat at a table that stands higher than the rest of the tables in the room.
"So I said we'd give you an hour," the judge says, folding his hands on the table. "So what magic tricks do you have up your sleeve to show me today?"
"To tell you the truth, Sir, I have the evidence hidden beneath my skirt. So if you don't mind turning away for a moment...." The judge, smirking, turns around to face the wall. The sheriff does the same.
Renata unties a piece of twine at her waist. A thin package, wrapped in brown paper, makes a soft thud as it lands at her feet. She reaches down for the package. "Alright, you can turn back," she says.
"'And what would that be inside the package?" The judge leans over the table, leering one hand covering the other.
Renata steps closer to the judge. "Before I let you see what's in here, I think it's only fair that we reconstruct the evidence used against me in the trial."
The judge clears his throat. "We are not going to retry this case, if that's what you had in mind."
"No, of course not," Renata says, her voice strong and commanding. "I'm not looking to do that. I simply want to remind you that virtually every piece of evidence presented at the trial was in the form of writing: my journal entries, and my cousin's wild stories casting me as a dancer and worse, a seductress."
The judge folds his hands together. "Yes, well, if you recall, no one ever established that those stories were the work of your cousin's pen. There was every reason to believe that those stories were ones that you composed."
"But that's foolish. Why in heavens name would I implicate myself in a murder I didn't commit?"
The judge slaps his hands on the table. "I said it before and I will say it again, we are not going to retry this case. So get to the point."
"My point is that you never produced a single witness to the so-called murder."
"And again, you are trying to reopen the case. I am quickly losing my patience!"
"All I am trying to do is establish that there was a witness."
He stands and slams the table again. "If you knew there was a witness why the hell didn't you bring him forward?" His face suddenly looks like it's sunburned.
"I wrote about her in my journal, but..."
"Oh for God's sake, are you trying to make a fool of me?"
Renata lowers her gaze and hands the judge pages from her journal. "No, not at all, your honor, I would encourage you to read my journal pages, pages that I ripped out of the journal, pages that I vowed I would never make public. Then I think you will understand. That writing carefully lays out my cousin's last hour."
"So who is this witness?"
"Please just read."
"I am not going to read any damn new pages. Tell me what is contained here."
Renata sets the three journal pages on the table. "These pages directly implicate...." Here, Renata's head drops forward. Teresa, standing to her right, puts an arm around Renata's waist and squeezes her arm.
"They reveal the truth about how Antonie died and they make clear that the person who..." She is trembling now and Teresa squeezes her tighter. "...the person who completed the act, finished the suicide that Antonie set in motion with his own razor...was..."
The sheriff stands. "Your honor, we've already established that her cousin was murdered. Where does she get the right to call it a suicide. It's just her overactive imagination...."
"Give me those damn pages," the judge says, scooping them off the table.
The judge, ignoring the sheriff, takes his eyeglasses out of his breast pocket and picks up the journal pages and begins to read. Renata interrupts right away. "I guess I don't have to point out to you that the yellowed paper, the ink, the slant of the handwriting, perfectly match that of my journal."
Leaning back in his chair, the judge pauses. "No, ma'am, you don't need to point this out to me." He continues reading. When he comes to the third page, he reads and rereads it and then sits back in his chair. He places his hands together and rests them on his sizable stomach.
"And pray tell, how is it that we never saw these curious pages during the trial?"
Renata closes her eyes, inhales and then slowly releases her breath. When she speaks, it's in a whisper. "I refused to implicate Señora. I wanted to... protect her."
"Well, well, what we have here is a most interesting turn of events." The judge takes the journal pages and hands them over to the sheriff. The pages are lost on him because he doesn't know how to read.
"Please give me the full name of this woman you call Señora."
"Must I? Isn't it clear from what you read here that my cousin was hellbent on killing himself?"
"The name please..."
"Señora Maria Cuorocora de los Ramos."
"And where can this woman be found?"
Renata closes her eyes. "She is in her final moments of life, weak as a kitten, residing at the convent where she can get the care she...."
Suddenly Teresa gasps and lets go of Renata's shoulders.
Renata looks up and there at the back of the courtroom stands Señora, wrapped in a black shawl and leaning on a cane.
The two nuns are aghast. "Judge, this is...this is...this is Señora, but just hours ago I saw her so close to dying that she could not possibly appear here."
Sister Teresa flew to the back of the room and helped support the hold woman. Soon she is standing beside Renata. They embrace. Señora's face looks so thin and pale it has a purple cast. She reaches into a pocket and brings out a sheet of paper. "Una oracion," She whispers. She hands it to Renata and raises her hand to tell Renata to read it aloud.
Renata looks at the judge. "Part of it is a prayer she has written. Shall I go ahead?
"Don't ask my permission, this is your dog and pony show."
She begins, translating as she proceeds: Dio mio, madre mio, my God my holy mother Mary holy father and son and holy spirit to whom do I ask forgiveness? To whom do I confess? The priest, Father Ruby? The last time I slid the little door in the confessional I saw the black screen between me and the priest and I lost heart. I wanted so desperately to unload myself, I wanted to scream 'I have sinned in the worst possible way, I have sinned by taking the last bit of life from a man I knew and raised from childhood.' But I lost heart. I left the confessional and I visited Renata at the jail; I begged her to tell the world the truth, but once again she refused."
Renata raised her head.
"Please continue," the judge said. "Dear God help me. Help me help my dear Renata to go free. No one but me can help her. I kneel here and beg you to hear me, from my humble position on this cold floor in the kitchen. I ask not for me not on my behalf but for her, she who faces hanging. I am determined to find a way to tell the world the truth, that I was the one responsible, I pressed the blade and severed his throat. I only continued with what Antonie started but of course I could have tried to get help for him rather than hasten his death. What I did was unforgivable. I dared to take the place of God, deciding whether a man was going to live or die. Please God please forgive me for what I did!"
There was perfect silence in the courtroom. The judge stood and gazed long and hard at Señora -- she seemed to shrink in his gaze. "I am afraid that you leave me no alternative but to take the old woman to the jail."
Renata protested. "She is close to 85 years old. She rose from her death bed to speak her truth. She only finished what Antonie set out to do. He wanted to die. She raised him from the time his mother -- my aunt Eliza -- died from small pox -- he wasn't even walking. Can't you see that arresting this woman makes no sense?"
Before the judge could answer, the sheriff stepped forward and put Señora into handcuffs. She offered no resistance. "Are we through here Judge? Can I take her away?"
"I would like to ask the nun one more question." He turned to Renata. "Why for God's sake didn't you make it clear what happened? Why this long drawn out affair when you knew there was a killer and that killer wasn't you?"
"I wanted to protect the woman who raised me. She is my mother, my grandmother, my savior. I couldn't forgive myself if I lived and she was put to death."
The judge shook his head. "Let's go, Frank, there is no point in sitting here any longer."
All of a sudden the sheriff screamed. He lifted the handcuffs into the air. Señora was no longer in the cuffs. Nor was she anywhere to be seen.
The judge roared. "What the blazing hell is going on here?"
Renata looked at Teresa. Art stood back and shook his head.
"I expect an explanation," the judge said, slamming the table, but even as he said it, the command sounded foolish.
"We have seen the hand of God at work here," Renata said in a whisper. "The work of God and the work of the Virgin Mary, to whom we pray every day."
"Well I don't give a damn about any of your foolish religion," the Sheriff said. "Stupid magic."
Renata smiled at the Sheriff. "Well then I invite you to find the old woman using whatever magic you happen to muster." She smiled at the judge. "May we leave now?"
"Don't leave town until we have gotten to the bottom of this foolishness," the judge said.
Art and Teresa and Renata were soon on the wagon heading back to Kitty's. Renata and Teresa held hands and prayed the whole way.