Tuesday, November 11, 2014
CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO: She's Back, Facing the Cell and the Gallows
The wagon pulls up in front of the small wooden building that houses the jail and the tiny courtroom. Arthur helps Renata down from the wagon.
She pulls herself up straighter. Taking in one long breath, she climbs the three wooden steps. Teresa follows.
Renata pauses at the door and turns to Teresa. "No matter what happens, I am ready now to accept my fate. I surrender to God's will. I will be sheltered beneath Mary's veil."
A strong gust of wind blows up against the two women, lifting their skirts and sending dust and grit into their eyes. Renata cups her eyes and turns to open the door.
"Renata, wait!" It's Arthur. "Can I please go in with you?"
She studies him. She shrugs. "I guess there will be no harm in that."
He's up the stairs before before she opens the door. He guides her gently by the elbow.
As they step inside, Renata's stomach squeezes and a shiver goes up her back. The pitiful cell where she spent so many many weeks is now occupied by a man with dark skin and long black straight hair. He has a single braid hanging beside his face.
Renata stares at the jailer, who is asleep, his feet propped on the wooden table.
"Hello," she says. He doesn't respond. She approaches the table and sets her hand on his leg and shakes him awake. He's disoriented, rubbing his eyes. His first instinct is to reach for his keys dangling from his belt. The sound of the keys jangling sparks another horrible memory in Renata's mind.
In a moment he is on his feet and leaning forward over the desk. "What....what the hell, it's you, YOU! You came back!"
His breath is sour with liquor. She turns away, then faces him in silence. Her eyes are wide open. Art is at one side, Teresa on the other.
"I hope you know that we're gonna you right back in the cell," he says. "And then you're cooked." He cackles. He jangles his keys. "Hurray up now, I gotta go tell the judge and the sheriff."
Renata stood her ground. "You don't have to put me in the cell," she says. "After all, I came here of my own free will. I am not going anywhere. I am here to prove to all of you once and for all that I am innocent."
The jailer cackles again and shakes his head. "You're dreaming lady," he says, "But whatever. Take a seat on the bench there, and I'll be right back."
Renata remains standing, as do Art and Teresa. All of them are staring at the man in the cell. He sits with his face down, staring between his knees.
The jailer returns in a few minutes, followed by the sheriff. He stands face to face with Renata.
"You do realize that we have every intention of carrying out the hanging," he says. He has his thumbs hooked on his suspenders. Renata sees what looks to be a gleam in the man's eye, and a smile on his bearded face.
"I am fully aware of that," Renata says. "I am prepared to hang."
"But I would ask one thing beforehand: the chance to present new evidence, evidence that is certain to exonerate me."
The sheriff is shaking his head no. "I'm afraid we can't go back into trial," he said, "there is no precedent for..."
Suddenly the judge, wearing a black suit, appears at the door. He places one hand on the sheriff's arm, and the sheriff repeats Renata's request.
"Jed," says the judge, "let me handle this."
The judge studies Renata, and glances at Teresa and Art. "I am willing to allow you one more hour in the courtroom," he says. The sheriff begins to protest, but the judge raises his hand, signaling silence, and then continues, "Be at the courthouse at 9 a.m. sharp tomorrow and we will let you have one more chance to speak." He turns to the sheriff, whose face is pinched with anger. "Jed, really, what difference does one hour make after all this time?"
He faces Renata. "I am assuming," he says, "that you have another witness?"
Renata nods. "No, but we have a sworn affidavit -- a very important document that wasn't available in the trial."
The judge shakes his head. "It's unlikely to help. But whatever you've got, bring it with you tomorrow, I will give you an hour, tops. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," she says. "Thank you for doing this."
The judge turns and he and the sheriff walk out the door.
"You sure you don't want even one more night here in this nice cell?" The jailer leers. He takes a step closer toward Renata, who smells even stronger of whiskey.
"Let's get going ladies," Art says, taking Renata and Teresa by the hand. The three of them head out the door into the late afternoon sunshine.
"We've got to find couple of rooms," Art says.
"No, that won't be necessary," Teresa replies. "We have a dear friend here, a woman named Kitty, who has put us up before. She runs a terrific little cafe and has a couple of extra rooms. I know she will be glad to open her door to us again."
And with that they climb into the wagon and head for the sky blue house where Kitty lives.