Friday, January 07, 2011

Chapter 25, Sister Mysteries: DeLuria The Defense Lawyer Delivers More Bad News

September 19, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail

Dear Teresa,

Why is it that newspaperscan deliver up lies in print, and people are so willing to believe them, no matter how wild they may sound?

Why is that no one, Teresa, not even my own lawyer, Steven DeLuria, can allow for the possibility that I was framed by my delusional cousin Antonie, whose great gift was to tell a believable story?

DeLuria came to see me today, and honestly, he seems as twisted as the pencil-thin mustache that curls in elaborate waxed spirals on either side of his gaunt face!

I welcomed his visit, at least to start I did, as this was the first time I had seen him since they threw me into this hellish cell well over two weeks ago! But it took only moments for me to see that he was miserably uninterested in my case.

He sat on the bench, close enough for me to smell his pomade, and he kept shuffling through papers in his satchel. What in God's name was he looking for?

Ah, then his hand landed on that damnable newspaper, the Examiner,and he shook it at me, and then shook his head and said, "I am afraid that this isn't going to help you one bit."

As if I didn't know it! What a laugh. I was holding onto my guitar, thankfully, and I squeezed the body of that beauty then, otherwise, Mother of God, I would have had a hard time holding myself back!

I wanted to knock my fist right into his bony face.

My heart started racing and I felt a sweat start up over my lip.

"Of course it isn't going to help, sir," I said, trembling. "Do you think for a minute that any of this was my choice?" I blinked back tears, which felt hot on the rims of my eyes. "Maybe you hadn't guessed this, Mr. DeLuria, but I would just as soon not be here." By then I was sniffling out loud and I guess I must have gotten to him, because he cleared his throat and straightening up, he handed me his embroidered hanky -- purple lace on a man's hanky? Then he stood -- he is so tall that his head grazes the slimy yellow ceiling of the cell. And he dresses well, at least he has more ruffles on the front of his shirt than do our convent chickens, Teresa, have feathers on their rumps!

"I am wondering how you plan to defend me?" I said, leveling a hard steady look at him despite my tears.

Somehow my crying seemed to have unnerved him.

He took hold of his narrow chin in his thumb and forefinger and slowly stroked his beard -- in addition to that mustache twirled and waxed at both ends, he has one of those excessively pointy goatees. And he's got a head that is elongated. What a strange-looking man!

"I think before I can possibly develop a defense for your case, that I will have to spend more time learning about your situation."

"My situation? You mean how it is that I am sitting in this foul place accused of murder?"

"Well, I will want to know how it is that you have come to believe that you are a victim of what you call...this conspiracy?"

"Believe?" I wrapped my arms around the guitar and squeezed her tight around the middle. "My dear Mr. DeLuria, let me be clear about one thing before we start." I felt my heart slamming against my chest and the sleek wood of the guitar. "I am innocent of all wrongdoing here. My cousin framed me with his ludicrous tales, he was mad as a hatter at the end!"

He kept rubbing his chin. "I see," he said. But of course he didn't!

I stood up. I held onto the guitar by its neck. "No, I"m not sure you do see!" I picked up my diary and thrust it at him.

"But if you do want to know the true story, it is all here, right inside my diary. I have kept a meticulous of everything that happened over these last months with Antonie. You can see all of it here, day by day, exactly the way things really happened."

He held up one hand, but wouldn't touch the journal.

"My day is very full," he said, "and I'm afraid that I won't have a chance to get to this for at least a couple more days."

My eyes widened, my mouth dropped open.

"A couple more days? But I had hoped that you were here today to speak with me. My first court appearance is at the end of this week, on Friday morning, or at least that's what they said. How can you possibly be prepared?" I whispered. I was horrified by this bad excuse for an attorney.

"I know full well what the court schedule is, my dear," he said. "But there are two other cases besides yours that I must attend to. So now, if you will excuse me," he took a magnificent gold watch out of his pocket and snapped open the engraved cover. "I am scheduled for an important lunch engagement shortly."

The word lunch set me into a rage. I dropped back on the bench. "Oh, please, please don't let me stop you from your lunch," I said, angry enough to spit. "And tell me about it if you will, what exactly is your menu? Hmmm? What is it that they are serving today, may I ask? Leg of lamb with mint jelly perhaps? Consommé? Fricasee of chicken?" My eyes gleamed, my voice rose. "And what for dessert sir? Apple pie? Berry cobbler? Will there be a large scoop of ice cream on the cobbler?"

He studied me curiously, as if I were slightly mad. "I will be back," he mumbled, "and when I return, I will consider your journal." He nodded that elongated head of his -- ah, I know now, it's resembles that of a small pony! -- and he gestured in the direction of my diary.

"Oh never fear, dear Mr. DeLuria, I will be right here in this cell waiting for you," I said. "I too have my pressing engagements but somehow they must wait."

And then I started strumming the carcelero that I have come to love so much.

"And as you are dining today, Mr. DeLuria, please be sure to think of me here," I said, glaring at him. I sang, blaring out the refrain that I have come to love so much:

“In three days I’ve eaten
Only bread and tears:
That is the food
That my jailers give.”

He hurried out of the cell and I tell you if it weren't for the guitar...

I sat for a long long time playing and singing until that wretched old jailer banged on the bars and demanded that I "give it a rest."

Then I sat writing in my diary. As evening came on, I had to stop (sadly, no candles are permitted me!) I sat in the dim light of the cell and ran my fingers over the finely chiseled leather of the diary -- a gift you spent too much money importing for me all the way from Spain.

Ah but Teresa, who will read the diary ? How will I bring the true story of Antonie's malicious lies to light?

I fear now how this will go -- nobody but you and Señora will ever know the truth about Antonie and how he died. Nobody will believe what I've written in the diary.

Why should they?

As you have said so many times, "the power of his world is the power of his word."

With all my cousin's money, his vast landholdings, his his donations to Father Ruby and the church, and all the money Antonie has donated to so many politicians...

How do I stand a chance?

The only thing I have on my side is the truth: I know that Antonie was ill with the syphilis, and as he was descending into madness and delusion, he was writing. As he went, down, down, down, he cast that net of horrifying words around me, he created another Renata on piles of thin white paper, he turned me into a Spanish dancer, one fashioned entirely out of words, words that he heard in the depth of his fevered hallucination, words that poured out of his mind as pure fantasy.

And now? His net of fantasies have collapsed upon me and I am facing...

Teresa I am standing staring out there into the courtyard and there is just moonlight, and I see it there, there in the shadows is the gallows where they will hang me!

NOTE TO READERS: In 1995, I began writing a story for a friend who had cancer. In the story, it was 1883 and a nun named Sister Renata had a wacky cousin named Antonie who saw her as a flamenco dancer. My friend got better but then I got cancer and the book fell apart. Sister Renata, meanwhile, landed in prison for murdering her lecherous cousin. Now that I have started writing the book again calling it Sister Mysteries) I see that the Sister Renata tale, and freeing the nun from prison, are all part of a healing story. To read Sister Mysteries, and the nun's tale, begin with Chapter One--CR!

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